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Swinging doors in politics

Swinging doors in politics

Mergers within the splintered royalist movement, and a flurry of high-profile party

defections, have left the competitors of the ruling CPP cluttered and divided ahead

of next year's national elections.

What seemed like a strictly two-party race only months ago has been fractured by

new entrants and alliances in a political arena already famous for its shifts of

allegiance and backroom deals.

As it stands, the Sam Rainsy Party is facing a potential rival in the fledgling Human

Rights Party (HRP), led by Kem Sokha, while the royalists are attempting to rally

from the brink of political extinction. It's still an underdog's exercise, as whomever

is left standing will face a hardened CPP juggernaut in full control of most of the

media, the armed forces and the courts.

Defections are coming from all camps.

In recent weeks, lawmaker Keo Remy quit the SRP for the HRP citing a lack of unity

and autocratic management from the party leader. Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional

Council and son of former prime minister Son Sann, also joined the HRP. Soubert has

been a strident critic of government policies and the leaders of the Buddhist clergy.

Meanwhile, the SRP picked up Khieu Rada, former president of Khmer Unity Party and

then former first deputy secretary general of Prince Sisowath Thomico's Sangkum Jatiniyum

Front Party (SJFP). The SRP also accepted ex-Funcinpec member Hor Sopheap, former

secretary of state at the Ministry of Information.

A month after he merged his SJFP with the NRP, Thomico reversed course and merged

with floundering Funcinpec, a party who's historic president and longtime leader,

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, has his own eponymous party. Funcinpec was joined by the

ex-NRP official and longtime Ranariddh loyalist Serei Kosal, a 3-star general in

the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and Ok Socheat, formerly a personal advisor to

Ranariddh.

"Even since the old days politicians have switched parties all the time,"

said Ou Virak, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "The

current system encourages other parties to split- especially those parties that claim

to be democratic. There are no principles to politicking in Cambodia, and as Ghandi

said, politics without principles is a deadly sin."

Touting a platform of stability and development, and still saber-rattling about overthrowing

the Khmer Rouge, the CPP won a huge majority of the recent commune council positions.

At the time, party spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith predicted

a landslide victory in the 2008.

Now, political analysts are concerned that the splintering and dissent of political

opponents will further delay the emergence of a credible challenge to the CPP's ironfisted

grip on government. And Prince Sisowath Thomico has said that if the dwindling royalist

groups don't unite, the monarchy's role in politics would disappear.

"If we cannot unite, the royalist movement will dissolve after 2008, and each

royalist party would not get even if one seat in the National Assembly," Thomico

said.

HRP president Kem Sokha, who launched the HRP in March, defended the right of individual

politicians to choose their political party.

Sokha claimed that other politicians will defect to his party and will be announced

at the congress scheduled on July 22 at the Olympic Stadium, which he expected 15,000

members to attend.

"The SRP is the only serious challenger. The only mainstream force that can

defeat the CPP," Rainsy said on July 12.

He added the morale of the SRP is at a "zenith" and that his party will

win the 2008 election. But he's not surprised by the present culture of defections.

"I think the CPP will try all they can to split or continue to split the democratic

movement and the opposition. It's not surprising," he said.

"What could be surprising for some observers is that the Cambodian people are

more mature. They'll vote to bring about change, vote in an effective manner and

concentrate their vote on the only serious challenger, which is the SRP."

But Virak disagrees. He believes voters are wary of opposition parties for practical

reasons, which have been exacerbated by the spate of recent public defections.

"There's a percentage of voters that don't like the CPP but can't trust the

opposition. They think the opposition is too extreme and will overturn everything,"

Virak said.

"It's not difficult to get voters from the CPP - they really have a small core

of real supporters - but the majority just want stability and they don't know what

to expect from the anyone else."

"There's a saying: the devil that you know versus the devil that you don't and

I think that still applies to Cambodian politics."

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