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6 Cambodian Opposition Parties Mull Alliance to Challenge Hun Sen’s Party


Cambodia

Six of Cambodia’s opposition groups, including the quickly growing Candlelight Party, are in talks to form a political alliance to compete with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party ahead of a general election slated for next year.

Leaders of the six parties – most of whom are former officials with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – told RFA’s Khmer Service that they had hoped to form a bloc with the other opposition groups ahead of commune elections in early June but lacked the resources and time to do so.

Instead, they said they are aligning on overlapping goals for electoral reforms in the near term, while working toward the formation of an alliance in time to challenge the CPP in the July 2023 general ballot.

Cambodia Reform Party Founder and former CNRP senior official Ou Chanrath told RFA that the six parties are working together “step by step.”

“We will have a serious talk for the general election on how to compete with the CPP,” he said. “If we aren’t united, I believe it will be tough to compete with the ruling party.”

Grassroots Democratic Party spokesperson Loek Sothea said that even though the parties have been busy preparing their individual platforms in the commune election, they have made time to work together. Recently, he said, the parties collaborated on a joint request to the National Election Commission to amend the country’s electoral laws.

“We have advocated on a few issues of common interest,” he said, adding that the parties will continue to produce joint statements in the future.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, government spokesperson Phay Siphan dismissed talk of an alliance between the six parties as a tactic to draw the attention of former CNRP supporters. He said such a bloc would be unable to compete with the CPP for dominance in the political arena.

“They aren’t trying to leverage good policies [to compete with the ruling party]; They are simply seeking numbers [of supporters] so [an alliance] won’t affect the ruling party, which is producing for the country,” he said.

The popular CNRP was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, allowing the CPP to win all 125 seats in Parliament in a July 2018 election. The party’s acting President Sam Rainsy has lived in exile in France since 2015 was sentenced in absentia last year to 25 years for what supporters say was a politically motivated charge of attempting to overthrow the government.

The Candlelight Party, formerly known as the Sam Rainsy Party and the Khmer Nation party, was founded in 1995, and merged with other opposition forces to form the CNRP in 2012.

Activists told RFA earlier this week that the party has established headquarters in every Cambodian province since it reactivated late last year and can present a challenge to the CPP in upcoming elections. The Candlelight Party’s acting President Thach Setha told RFA that almost 90% of the CNRP’s members have joined his party, which he said adheres to the banned party’s ideals.

Political analyst Kim Sok told RFA on Wednesday that since the Candlelight Party and the other five opposition groups share common goals, an alliance is a natural fit.

“Don’t simply cooperate and issue joint statements,” he said. “Establish a joint goal and a joint set of principles.”

New party president

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Funcinpec Party held its first party congress since the November 2021 death of its leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, electing his son Prince Norodom Chakravuth as its new president on Wednesday.

Funcinpec spokesperson Nhoeun Raden told the congress that Chakravuth had worked hard to bring a mix of royalists, democrats, and other political adherents into the party. He said Funcinpec also hopes to merge with other parties to build a larger support base ahead of upcoming elections.

“Those who are royalists and supporters, please return to the Funcinpec Party so it can fulfill its mission to serve the country,” he said.

Legal analyst Puth Kolka told RFA that the Funcinpec Party no longer enjoys a good reputation and that democrats are avoiding it. He said that the party is likely to have difficulty restoring its popularity to what it once was in the early 1990s.

“When the party doesn’t connect to the voters and ignores people difficulties, it won’t gain support,” he said. “The party is working for the sake of the government only.”

The Cambodian king’s half-brother who served as prime minister before being ousted by Hun Sen, Ranariddh died in France on Nov. 28, aged 77.

Funcinpec won elections in 1993, but Ranariddh was deposed in a bloody 1997 coup by Hun Sen, a coalition partner who remains in power and has eliminated all subsequent rivals and challenges to his 36-year rule.

In 2017, Ranariddh shocked admirers by backing Hun Sen’s dissolution of the CNRP and jailing leader Kem Sokha on treason charges for which he is still on trial.

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