WASHINGTON - Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha say they are confident their new opposition coalition has a chance of winning national elections next year and that they are finally prepared to register the new party under the government later this month.
The National Salvation Party will join together officials from the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties, with Sam Rainsy named president. The original parties will not disband, however, allowing those supporters with legislative or local leadership roles to stay where they are.
The two men are in Washington meeting US officials to lobby for support and explain the strategy of the new party. Both appeared for studio interviews with VOA Khmer on Wednesday.
“When democratic forces unify as one to confront a ruling party and a dictatorship government, the democratic forces will definitely have victory,” Sam Rainsy said.
Kem Sokha, who will be the party’s vice president, said the new party represented “hope for a democratic process in Cambodia.”
Both leaders say they want to see reforms in the National Election Committee, which they say is biased toward the CPP. The NEC must address voter and registration irregularities, especially “ghost” voters, they said.
The new party, with a structure and leadership, will help give people confidence, Kem Sokha said. “Experience clearly shows that we are all victims of dictators, so if we split apart, the ruling party leaders will increasingly persecute us.”
He said the new party has spurred an outpouring of support in the US and Canada, where both leaders have been touring, from not only traditional supporters “but other Cambodians from different parties and independent people.” The new party hopes to capitalize on that groundswell, he said, to improve its human resources, finances and ideas.
The party will face a major challenge, however, with Sam Rainsy remaining in exile. The longtime opposition leader has been out of the country since 2009, after a series of criminal charges brought against him after he uprooted border markers in Svay Rieng province.
Even Burma was now allowing its own opposition leader, Aung Saan Su Kyi involvement in politics, Sam Rainsy said. “On the contrary, in Cambodia the president of the only opposition movement is currently prevented from participating in the election, and was sentenced and forced into exile,” he said. But he said he thought a political solution is still possible.
“I believe that by the end of 2012, there will be a political deal,” Sam Rainsy said. He also said he would not be prevented from running as a candidate for prime minister if he returns.
He was working to protect the national interest on the border, he said. “I protect the lands and farms of Cambodians. Whoever creates trouble for me is not protecting the nation, but is protecting the interests of foreign invaders.”
“Now we have to absolutely unify to save the nation, to save the country, to save territory, to save land, to save our farms, to save our forests, to save lakes, canals, rivers, our natural resources, to save Cambodian lives, to save our future generations,” he said. “These are the biggest issues that we have put above all things.”
Kem Sokha said the new party will register this month, filing with the Ministry of Interior and the National Election Committee. Those bodies will have two weeks to then respond with any procedural complaints.
He said opposition lawmakers will not lose their current seats in the National Assembly, the Senate or in commune councils, because the original parties were not dissolving. The creation of a new party meant that supporters who do not hold these seats will move under the new party, and those lawmakers who hold seats will remain in their old parties until it is time to move.
The formation of the new party has caused concern already with the ruling party, Kem Sokha said, evidenced by Hun Sen’s address on border issues to the National Assembly Thursday. “He’s frightened, so he’s taken this forum to divert people’s attention,” he said. “But I believe the Cambodian people know him clearly. And they know the country is in danger.”
The new party has a constitutional platform, Kem Sokha said. This means liberal democracy and pluralism, he said. It also means neutrality and non-alignment as a foreign policy, or “peaceful co-existence with its neighbors and all other countries throughout the world.”
“We want Cambodians to have peace,” Sam Rainsy said. “Whatever benefits Cambodians, whatever protects Cambodians, we’ll do it all.”