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Parties Unclear on Opposition Path

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining the opposition.]

Less than three months from national elections, the opposition is facing some problems, and many Cambodians are wondering what the face of the next opposition will be. No one yet has a good answer.

Officially, the opposition is the Sam Rainsy Party. It has seats in parliament and is not a part of the ruling coalition comprised of the Cambodian People's Party and Funcinpec.

But last year's local commune elections saw the rise of two other parties that could vie for seats in parliament this year without taking control of the body: the Human Rights Party, led by Kem Sokha, and the eponymous party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

In fact there are more than 50 small parties expected to compete in the July polls. And, given free and fair elections and more than 8 million voters, anything can happen.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told VOA Khmer this week the country could see a change in the opposition party. He predicted the new opposition would be the CPP.

"The SRP will become the ruling party, because when I walk around the villages, districts, communes and provinces, there needs to be change," he said.

Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the CPP government, said he doubted that would happen. Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Chantha predicted the rise of his party to replace the Sam Rainsy Party.

"The NRP has prepared already to be the opposition, because Sam Rainsy has announced that he will join with Hun Sen," he said.

Meanwhile, no political observers were ready to predict who might take the most opposition seats.

Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho, said the next opposition, whomever it is, must be strong in human resources and in budget, in order to gain the confidence of the people nationwide.

"We hope that the next mandate still will have an opposition party," she said. "Having an opposition means that one party takes power and the few who do not take power monitor the ruling party."