Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Thursday accused the country’s ruling party of seeking to undermine its competition ahead of general elections set for 2018 by establishing several smaller parties in a bid to split opposition voters.
Speaking to supporters of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Kampong Speu province, Sam Rainsy said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) was “behind the establishment” of the smaller parties and called for “unity among [the country’s] democrats.”
No party had been able to defeat the CPP over the past 30 years because the country’s nationalists and democrats have remained split, the opposition chief said.
“The CPP knows that if the democrats are united, it will lose,” he said.
“They are establishing smaller parties to split the [opposition] votes.”
Sam Rainsy noted that the royalist Funcinpec party, as well as his former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and CNRP Deputy President Kem Sohka’s former Human Rights Party (HRP), had long split the opposition vote, allowing the CPP to sweep national elections.
Since the SRP and HRP merged to become the CNRP in 2012, however, the CPP has faced a significant challenge to its control of the government.
In May last year, the CPP swept elections for Cambodia’s provincial, municipal, and district councils, winning 2,543 seats to the CNRP’s 769, but the CNRP picked up 185 more seats than the opposition’s haul in the last local elections in 2009.
The CNRP’s gains in the local elections came on the heels of strides it made in general elections in July 2013, in which the CPP suffered its worst performance since 1998.
The National Election Committee, which oversees the country’s polls, had declared that the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP has claimed it won at least 63 and boycotted the National Assembly for 10 months until the two sides agreed to pursue electoral reforms in July 2014.
Khmer For Khmer
Sam Rainsy’s statement comes after a recent announcement by several leaders of domestic nongovernmental organizations that they had established the “Khmer For Khmer” group to educate villagers about democracy and help them select their local leaders.
The NGO leaders are believed to be forming a new political party that would run against the CPP and the CNRP in the country’s 2018 elections.
Khmer For Khmer leader and political commentator Kem Ley told RFA’s Khmer Service that the CNRP had become “weak” because it had no competition.
He criticized the opposition party for “following in the CPP’s footsteps.”
“The CPP has been using a strategy of hatred and accusation against its critics, such as the opposition party,” he said.
“Now, the CNRP has learned from the CPP and is criticizing other parties. The CNRP doesn’t profit by these allegations.”
Kem Ley told the Cambodia Daily that the CPP played no role in creating or supporting his group.
“No, we just use our own resources and our own contributions. We are open for any independent auditing firm or any group to investigate us. We are open. We are moving in a transparent and accountable way,” he said, adding that Sam Rainsy’s claims were baseless.
“This is not the first time, and it’s not only him—his group always blames people without evidence-based information. But I work for my country, not for anyone.”
Sam Rainsy’s call for opposition unity also follows the return earlier this month of Prince Norodom Ranariddh to lead the royalist Funcinpec party, which he brought to victory in U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993, though he was forced to accept Hun Sen as a co-prime minister.
A son of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, Norodom Ranariddh was expelled from Funcinpec after being ousted in a coup by Hun Sen in 1997.
While the prince has said he only seeks to reunite Cambodia’s royalist parties and pledged not to interfere with the opposition, his restoration is widely seen as a behind-the-scenes maneuver by Hun Sen to divide the CPP’s competition in the 2018 elections.
Funcinpec officials have denied that Hun Sen was involved in Norodom Ranariddh’s return.
Earlier this week, on his return from a two-week trip to Europe, Sam Rainsy said the CNRP was not threatened by the growing popularity of Funcinpec and welcomed the prince’s return to politics.
“This is a political right—I welcome all to participate,” he said.
Reported by Tin Zakariya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.