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Human Rights Party President Pushes for Joining of Opposition

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha, right, greets a party member as he attends the new party's congress in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha, right, greets a party member as he attends the new party's congress in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, said he is pushing forward for talks with the Sam Rainsy Party in an attempt to merge the opposition parties ahead of next years national elections.

It remains to be seen whether the two parties can find enough common ground to form a single opposition. Attempts in the past have failed, and opposition leader Sam Rainsy remains in exile.

“I want to meet Sam Rainsy to know his point of view,” Kem Sokha said Wednesday.

Kong Kaom, who is managing the Sam Rainsy Party while its leader is abroad, said he had received a written request from Kem Sokha for a meeting. The Sam Rainsy Party has put together a committee for discussions with the Human Rights Party, he said.

The Sam Rainsy Party lost some ground in Sunday’s election, ending with only 22 commune council chief positions; the Human Rights Party won 18. The Sam Rainsy Party holds 26 seats in the National Assembly, compared to three HRP seats. By contrast, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won an estimated 1,592 of 1,633 commune chief positions and holds 90 of 123 National Assembly seats.

In a letter Tuesday, Sam Rainsy called on democratic parties to join together. “I believe that democracy’s strength will defeat the dictatorial leadership in Cambodia,” he said.

But observers say it will be difficult for the party to properly contest the elections without its leader.

Sam Rainsy told VOA Khmer Tuesday that he is still seeking a way to return to Cambodia before next year’s election. He faces a jail term in Cambodia related to his destruction of border markers in Svay Rieng province in 2009, on what he claims are politically motivated ch arges. Prime Minister Hun Sen has said there can be no political solution to Sam Rainsy’s exile. Sam Rainsy said he will seek help from countries with influence over Vietnam, in hopes Vietnamese leaders will pressure Phnom Penh for his return.

Sam Rainsy, who recently traveled through the US to find more support for his opposition, said Tuesday that next year’s parliamentary elections will not be deemed free or fair if the main opposition leader is not allowed in the country. US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said he had no information on whether Sam Rainsy would return. “But in a general sense, the US government encourages open participation and a political process in the spirit of democracy,” he said.

Koul Panha, executive director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Tuesday the presence of the main opposition leader would be important for the election.

“Our people vote for the parties,” he said. “So the parties mostly depend on their leaders, political platforms and structure. If the parties don’t have their leaders, they miss an important element in gaining supporters to be able to fully contest against the ruling party.”

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yiep said this week the joining of the two oppositions was not a concern, because it would not pull votes from ruling party supporters. Both parties are plagued by infighting by lower level supporters, he added.