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Opposition Parties Meet in Effort to Unify

Leaders of the opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties began two days of meeting Tuesday, as they sought to bring the two parties under a united front against the ruling party.

The merging of the parties was necessary to compete with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, HRP President Kem Sokha said, following a first round of meetings at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters in Phnom Penh.

The initiative comes six months after 2008’s national election, where the Sam Rainsy Party won 26 National Assembly seats and the Human Rights Party won three.

The CPP won a significant 90 seats, giving its parliamentarians a strong advantage to pass legislation in the National Assembly.

“The experience of the last election made us think about the union, to facilitate voters in choosing the right party,” Kem Sokha said. “We will merge into a united party, but we don’t know yet what the process we will choose.”

The main goal of the unity is to “change the governance of the nation,” he said.

Sam Rainsy did not comment following Tuesday’s meeting, saying only both parties would release a statement Wednesday and hold a joint press conference Thursday.

Both parties had hoped to align or join in the months ahead of national elections in 2008, but failed to find a compromise in leadership, party structure and other factors.

Kem Sokha said Tuesday officials would discuss the name of a unified party and action plan for a new party.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the ruling party did not consider the merging of the two parties a threat, but said the party was “confident” it could win the next election.

Ny Chakrya, head of investigation for the rights group Adhoc, said Tuesday the merger of the parties was a little late for the last election, but could make both parties stronger than their current situation as the country moves toward 2013 elections.

The merger would only work, he said, if the two parties do not betray each other, as has happened in the past with the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec.

Such an “opposition coalition” could encourage people to turn out to vote, he said.