Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rising star SRP cries foul - a little less loudly

Rising star SRP cries foul - a little less loudly

Rising star SRP cries foul - a little less loudly

Since polling closed on July 27, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) spin machine has been

in full swing, slamming corruption and crying foul over what it deemed an unfair

election.

The party is doing what it has always done best: speaking out louder and more critically

then anyone else. It is an approach that has typified the party since its inception

in 1995, and it continues to pay off.

Whether or not the final tally for the SRP reflects the provisional results of the

National Election Committee (NEC), likely showing 25 seats, or the SRP's own projection

of 28 seats, it is a clear improvement on the 15 seats won in 1998.

No longer the poor younger brother of royalist Funcinpec, of which leader Sam Rainsy

was previously a member, the SRP has now emerged with a distinctive voice, and has

cemented its political position.

Earlier this year Rainsy was talking of winning as many as 42 seats. But he is not

disappointed with its showing, and said the party had a lot to be proud of.

"Given the problems and the obstacles that we have to face, given the environment

of intimidation ... given that we started with bare hands against two well-established

parties, I think this is a satisfactory result, and all the SRP members can be proud,"

he said.

The 2002 local election results gave some indication of potential success. Although

the CPP romped home ahead of everyone else, Funcinpec's abysmal performance gave

the SRP hope for 2003. The opposition vowed to mobilize voters and pinch supporters

from the royalist fold.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the opposition

party's policies seemed finally to have wrested votes from Funcinpec.

"It comes as no surprise to anyone that the SRP did so well as they have been

working so hard," she said. "They catch voter attention with specific [policies]

that really affect people in urban areas [such as] corruption, the price of petrol

and wages."

The SRP's key improvements are in urban areas. It took half the seats in Phnom Penh,

and made significant gains in Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kampong Thom and Prey Veng. However

the isolated northern and northeastern provinces remain staunchly in CPP hands.

Opposition MP Son Chhay told the Post that in order to conquer the countryside, media

access would have to be improved. He said the SRP would have to push for its own

radio license.

Rainsy said his plan for the future would be to focus on mobilizing the youth.

"Funcinpec plays on the past and the King," he explained. "The CPP

makes references to the Khmer Rouge ... But the people born after 1970 make comparisons

to Thailand. They talk to their friends, they want jobs, and they start to think

about things for themselves."

But some observers warned problems could arise unless splits within the party were

fixed. A number of defections from the SRP to Funcinpec prior to the elections brought

to light dissatisfaction within the opposition's ranks.

"They need to now focus on strengthening the management [or] the party could

just collapse from within," said Vannath.

Son Chhay agreed that the party was in need of reorganization.

"We have to look into some reform," he said. "We do not have a good

management team in place. We must have more then just a one-man kind of party. We

hope we will be more open, more democratic. Every member should have a say."

One recent defector to Funcinpec, who requested anonymity, suggested the SRP's squeaky-clean

image was a far cry from reality. He felt more supporters could leave unless bad

eggs were removed from the party.

"Sam Rainsy always claims to be democratic, but all decisions are made by him

and a few people he likes," he claimed. "Rainsy only listens to his wife's

orders, but he never discusses anything with the members in his party. If you just

look from the outside, Sam Rainsy seems to be a very fair leader but in fact he has

no justice at all."

Rainsy denied unrest within party ranks, and said its internal workings were the

most democratic and transparent in the land.

"The SRP used to be perceived as a one-man show," he said. "People

said it revolves around Sam Rainsy and his wife, but they now realize this is not

a one-man party ... Had I been a dictator, had it been corrupt, we would not have

gained votes."

Son Chhay feels the royalists should merge with the SRP.

"I think it is becoming clear that in the next five years we are going to have

two major parties," said Son Chhay. "For the sake of the monarchy, I think

the royal family should give up politics."

So where does the SRP go from here? With political wrangling taking new twists every

day, its immediate future is uncertain. But most pundits the Post spoke to immediately

after the election felt its time had not yet come, and another five years in opposition

awaited.

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