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Cambodia future opposition coalition hangs in the balance

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times  Tue, February 16, 2021

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan (L), president of the Khmer Conservative Party Real Camerin (C, L), president of the Khmer Will Party Kong Monika (C, R), and former CNRP senior official Ou Chanrath (R). KT

The possibility of minor political parties forming a coalition to challenge the mammoth ruling party is teetering, as they seem fledgling and remain divisive.

The question has been raised whether the coalition of new “opposition” parties that have split from the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) could be made official in time for the upcoming elections.

Some leaders of those parties said they are seeking a way to create a coalition to challenge the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), saying their current situation is not strong enough to defeat the ruling party.

Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath, now the founder of the newly created Cambodia Reform Party (CRP), said yesterday he wants to see a coalition of opposition parties rather than remaining an isolated party.

“There are three ways to form an alliance. The first is to work together to formulate a competitive strategy, as some parties have also stated that they want to work together to do so, but remain separate parties,” he said.

The second way, Chanrath said, could be to merge into one party, like the merger between the Sam Rainsy Party (the candlelight party, SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP) in 2012, which became the CNRP.

“Third, we could use the coalition formula like in Malaysia where [former Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir Mohamad previously did,” he said.

However, Chanrath said he and other opposition politicians have not yet decided in principle how to unite.

“But, we are willing to unite, to work together to compete or to merge to make it effective,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the CPP wants to see a strong opposition coalition to challenge his party.

However, he said he is afraid that the new political parties will not unite for a long period of time or fail to unite altogether.

He said that despite the merger between the SRP and the HRP in 2012 to form the now-dissolved CNRP, the CPP still won the 2013 National Election. At that time the CPP won 68 seats while the CNRP won 55.

“In a liberal multi-party democracy, there are always ups and downs of such votes. But, we have to make sure we win at least in the 50 percent plus one system,” he said, referring to majority seats. “The important thing is not only look at the seats but to see if the party can have enough votes to form a government.”

In 2006, the Constitution was amended to reduce the number of lawmakers needed to form a government and reach quorum at the National Assembly’s plenary sessions, from two-thirds of lawmakers to “50 percent plus one”.

In 2006, former Sam Rainsy Party president Sam Rainsy wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the then National Assembly president Prince Norodom Ranariddh of Funcinpec, asking them to allow the formation of a new government through the “50 percent plus one” system rather than two-thirds of parliamentary seats which had been required since 1993.

The intent was to prevent the political deadlock that occurred after the 2003 National Election from repeating itself.

However, with the merging of the opposition in the 2013 National Election, the CPP lost 22 seats, compared to the 2008 National Election when they won 90 National Assembly seats. Eysan said the 2013 scenario will not repeat itself in the 2023 National Election.

Eysan said he does not see the 2013 scenario happening again because after the CNRP was dissolved, its supporters then defected to the CPP.

He also criticised Rainsy for previously calling on people not to vote without the CNRP. However, he added, despite Rainsy’s call to boycott, there was an 83 percent voter turnout for the 2018 National Election when the CPP had a landslide victory and took all 125 National Assembly seats.

“I will wait and see how long until they can unite. They are the opposition who say they are weak now, so the weak plus the weak parties will still be weak,” he said.

Currently, there are four parties which have broken away from the ex-CNRP. They are the Cambodia National Love Party (CNLP) headed by Chiv Kata, the Khmer Will Party (KWP) headed by Kong Monika, the Khmer Conservative Party (KCP) headed by Real Camerin and Chanrath is seeking to register the newly created CRP to compete in the 2022 Commune Election and the 2023 National Election.

Former CNRP lawmaker Kang Kimhak, who is currently the vice-president of the CNLP, told Khmer Times that he supports any initiative to unite with other minor parties.

“The CNLP is based on the principle of unification, so if any party wants to unite, the CNLP welcomes it,” he said. “I urge the democrats, former leaders or activists of the ex-CNRP to continue to act. We cannot sleep waiting for the CNRP to return.”

Monika said he has preached and supported the unity of democrats many times in the past to build a better “democratic force” to compete with the ruling party.

However, he is concerned that some “democrats” may have different views and goals that are a barrier to them coming together on a large scale. He urged them to join with the KWP rather than create many minor parties.

Different from others, Camerin said yesterday he will consider the coalition if it has “clear consciousness”.

“If the unity is made only for show, or if the unity intends to divide the [opposition], it would be better for us to stay alone, because we have already experienced this in the past,” he added.

However, Rainsy alleged that Mr Hun Sen has attempted “to manufacture an artificial opposition”, claiming the new opposition parties are using former CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s name to attract ex-party supporters.

Sokha has called on his former colleagues to avoid using his name, saying any person or group that intends to “form, is forming or has formed” political parties not to associate his name with them. He said individuals or groups doing so should have the courage to take responsibility for themselves.

Cambodia News Home

SOURCE: Khmer Times, Cambodia Tue, February 16, 2021

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