Cambodia’s two main opposition parties announced a merger in Manila this week, but a leading ruling party lawmaker says this will likely do little in next year’s parliamentary elections.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party controls 90 of 123 seats in the National Assembly.
“I don’t feel concern or shiver at the merger of both parties in Manila,” said Cheam Yiep, a CPP lawmaker. The CPP dominated national elections in 2008 and gained a wide majority of commune council chiefs in local elections this July.
Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha both attended the talks in Manila this week, declaring at the end they would join to “salvage” the nation.
“From today, there will be only two parties confronting each other,” Sam Rainsy said after the talks.
“When united, our strategy can gather huge forces,” Kem Sokha said. “This is our strategy, to gather Cambodians everywhere, inside and outside, as a large force to change the current leadership.”
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Both leaders said Cambodia is facing pressing issues of sovereignty, land grabs, forced evictions and others.
However, Cheam Yiep said the two leaders had exaggerated for the sake of politics.
“I hope the Cambodian people are not stupid,” he said. “Nowadays, we know that they learn everything, know how to analyze everything. Look, ask, within the last 20, 30 years, have the Sam Rainsy Party or Human Rights Party achieved anything? They claim it’s because they don’t hold the government. When they win an election, they can hold the power indeed.”
Hang Puthea, president of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, told VOA Khmer that election formulas favor larger parties, and now with the opposition merged, people will have a clear choice to make.
Still, the opposition faces many obstacles, he said. Even a name change could mean the dissolution of parliamentary seats. But if they do keep their separate names, they’ll remain separate entities.
Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, said political parties must register 90 days before the election, according to the law, after registering separately with the Ministry of Interior.
In Manila, the opposition leaders did not say when they would merge or whether they would name a new party.
One of the largest obstacles remains. Sam Rainsy is still in exile, facing jail sentences on charges he says are politically motivated. He will not be able to run for office with his criminal convictions, according to election laws.