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Opposition Leader Courts United Front for National Election

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called on Cambodia's smaller, fragmented parties to gather under one banner for the 2008 National Election and face the ruling Cambodian People's Party, after his party increased its number of commune chiefs Sunday.

"Now, [the Sam Rainsy Party] is appealing for one democratic movement to compete one on one with the CPP," Sam Rainsy told reporters outside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. "If competing one on one, I believe the CPP will not win."

The Sam Rainsy Party is the sole opposition party with seats in the National Assembly and won a handful of chief seats in Sunday's commune elections.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party maintains a tight grip on power, however, and holds a coalition partnership with Funcinpec in national politics.

Funcinpec, the royalist party, suffered a resounding defeat in this week's election, having split with its former leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who began his own party last year amid corruption and infidelity scandals.

"In 1998 [and] 2003 the democrats were divided, with Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties," Sam Rainsy said. "Now Funcinpec is dissolved."

He said he envisioned his party leading a coalition of smaller parties. Twelve parties in total put up candidates in Sunday's commune elections.

Sam Rainsy's rally cry came after a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week calling for unity after the elections. In that speech, Hun Sen said that not even all the parties combined would be able to compete with the CPP in national elections.

Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Chantha said the party welcomed Sam Rainsy's appeal, "to serve the nation's interest for a victory in the 2008 election."