Leaders from the two main opposition parties in Cambodia will meet in the Philippines late this month to discuss a merger ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, according to officials from both political groups.
Human Rights Party (HRP) President Kem Sokha said the plan to meet with Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) President Sam Rainsy came after he made an appeal to unite in the interest of promoting democracy in Cambodia. The two parties have tried unsuccessfully to unite over the last two years.
Sam Rainsy on Tuesday also issued a public statement calling on all democrats and political parties to join forces to compete against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Sam Rainsy said he is initiating a movement to bring about political reforms in the country.
Kem Sokha expressed confidence that the two would find a way to unite the opposition parties.
“If we only consider personal benefits during our talks, we won’t unite, but if we keep the national interests in mind, we should have no problem,” he said.
Kem Sokha said that he had received a letter from the SRP inviting him and his senior staff to a sit down in the Philippines.
“I am confident that we can unite.”
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that if the two groups can put aside their differences, they could combine to beat the dominant CPP in the parliamentary elections, which are tentatively scheduled for mid-2013.
“We could get about two million votes, despite rampant vote buying and intimidation, according to our estimates,” he said.
The SRP and HRP attempted to merge ahead of local-level elections for commune council chiefs held last weekend, but were unable to decide upon common goals. The parties set the wheels in motion for a merger nearly two years ago, but have so far been unwilling to see eye-to-eye.
The SRP won 22 commune council chief positions in Sunday’s election while the HRP won 18. The SRP holds 26 seats in the National Assembly, or parliament, compared to three HRP seats. By contrast, the CPP won an estimated 1,592 of 1,633 commune chief positions and holds 90 of 123 National Assembly seats.
Senior CPP member and lawyer Cheam Yeap said it is unlikely that the two parties will unite because they have such different agendas, but that even if they do they would not threaten the power of the ruling party.
“Even if they want to topple the Cambodian People’s Party, we are not afraid because the ruling party is just like a big snake that eats little frogs,” he said.
Experts also believe that the united parties will face difficulty in next year’s election without their leader, Sam Rainsy, heading the election campaign.
The opposition leader currently lives in exile in France and is facing a two-year jail sentence for uprooting markers at the border with Vietnam in 2009, if he returns.
Sam Rainsy said that he plans to meet with Vietnamese officials to convince them to pressure Cambodia to allow him to enter the country.
Prime Minister and CPP leader Hun Sen responded Thursday, saying that he is not a Vietnamese puppet and telling Sam Rainsy he would face his punishment if he returned to Cambodia.
Hun Sen also took the opportunity Thursday to thank the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees elections in the country, for its work during Sunday’s polls, which he said went “smoothly.”
“The election results were just, free, and fair,” he said.
The SRP has refused to accept the election results and has called on the NEC to recount the ballots.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.