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As Elections Near, Democracy Debated


In spite of an impending election, the state of Cambodia's democratic system remains weak, prominent political figures and analysts said Tuesday.

Many cited the importance of an "alliance of democrats" to beat the ruling Cambodian People's Party in next year's parliamentary elections.

Such an alliance has failed to emerge; instead, smaller splinter parties are vying for the support of opposition voters.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who heads his self-named party from exile, appealed Friday for unity between the country's nationalists and democrats to form an alliance that might compete with the CPP.

But such an alliance could face its own difficulties, Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc, said.

An alliance could be hurt for the lack of a trustworthy leadership structure or fair decision-making process that would satisfy all parties, he said.

"I think that it cannot be done, forming the alliance of democrats, because it seems the opposition parties cannot agree," he said. "They cannot form an alliance before the election, or after, because the past mediocrity of each leads to the loss of confidence in the other, which is a big obstacle hindering the opposition parties from forming an alliance or unifying."

So far, a winning formula has eluded smaller parties, only one of which, the Sam Rainsy Party, has any seats in parliament. Each of the others, Norodom Ranariddh's or Kem Sokha's Human Rights Party, is still seeking voters and support.

The Human Rights Party would form an alliance with either of the other parites, Kem Sokha said, but the president of the alliance would need a two-year term limit. An alliance would have to have a separation of power to prevent abuse, and the heads of each party should announce the worth of their assets before joining.

Prince Ranariddh has received an 18-month prison sentence in absentia from Cambodian courts following allegations of embezzlement when he was the head of Funcinpec, the government coalition party. "The Human Rights Party supports democratic mobilization of effort, but this mobilization of effort has not served people in the past," Kem Sokha said. "One wins, he takes the power of the people and sells it, and therefore we are concerned about this issue. If we want to win over the ruling party, don't use the old idea. The idea of swindling is used to win. We discuss things but he takes sole power."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he was not surprised by an appeal to unite the democrats.

"We do not have to remember anybody's request in the mobilization of the democrats' and the nationalists' efforts. It is late, and there is nothing new, because we have done the work," he said.

Cambodia political analysts said recently that while opposition parties cannot form an alliance, the CPP will gain seats.

"Let's wait and see who wants to be the president," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. "Each one is ambitious, wanting to be prime minister. Even if they merge into one party, the CPP is not concerned."

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