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Selection of Opposition Leader in North America Prompts Hopes for Unity

Uong Rithy is a guidance counselor at Lowell High School, Massachusetts, Tuesday, September 12, 2016. (Ten Soksreinith/VOA Khmer)

In an interview with VOA Khmer this week, Uong Rithy said he was committed to working with supporters from both sides of the aisle.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party officials in the United States and Canada say despite the obstacles they will work together to ensure the party wins at the forthcoming elections.

The CNRP, founded in a merger of Sam Rainsy’s Sam Rainsy Party and Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012, has been fraught with internal struggles since its formation.

Similarly, the party’s North American branches have also been divided along factional lines, with one faction loyal to Rainsy and another close to Sokha.

Earlier this year, a former city councilor, Uong Rithy, was selected as CNRP leader in the United States.

In an interview with VOA Khmer this week, Rithy said he was committed to working with supporters from both sides of the aisle.

“Today, my obligation is to strengthen and expand the CNRP and help find funds to sustain the party in the country,” he said. “This is an enormous task because when we are engaged in politics, we need three resources: human resources, finance and voters.”

“We need to separate and clarify. We need to take into account that whatever we do, we do for the nation. We need to uphold the principle of the party and walk along the path toward strengthening the party and toward winning the 2017-2018 elections.”

Chea Kimly, a senior CNRP figure in the U.S. and Canada, welcomed Rithy’s selection.

“I hope that policy under his leadership will lead to changes. Secondly, it is a sign we show to the community that we need to integrate to work towards reform in the 2017-2018 elections. I believe that Rithy ... has as much will as myself in this. So we must work together for the interest of our party,” he said.

He added that if the party remained divided along factional lines, it “will not move forward as we just need a single system to function.”

Sos Chandara, the CNRP’s general secretary in the U.S., agreed that Rithy’s selection could lead to a more unified opposition movement overseas.

“I have strong optimism because our supporters understand our direction, especially the stage in which we need to change the leader of the nation,” he said, referring to the end of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule.

Pretty Ma, another senior CNRP official in North America, said it was necessary to integrate the party’s factions ahead of the elections.

“We all are mature enough; we can discuss and find a way to strengthen the force overseas in order to help the CNRP, which is under attack in the form of any pressure possible by law or intimidation by the Cambodian government,” he said.

Ma claimed that supporters in Canada and cities throughout the U.S. will help give generously to the party’s election campaign after having witnessed increasing repression in Cambodia.

Chea Meas, a CNRP official from Philadelphia, praised Rithy as the right man for the job of unifying the party.

“I don't see any negative points about him. He is a good person who can lead the party in this mandate and take the party a step further in terms of diplomacy, locally and overseas,” he said.

Rithy confirmed that both Rainsy and Sokha had called to congratulate him on his selection.

However, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the party has yet to establish an official leadership overseas, adding that “anyone can create a group.”