At Convention, CNRP Leaders Ask Supporters For Patience

CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha used the first convention of their united opposition party Sunday to appeal to supporters not to abandon the party after it cut a deal last week with the government to enter the National Assembly.

With the atmosphere of a demonstration and a level of attendance not seen since marches to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen peaked late last year, the opposition leaders called on their base to reflect on the party’s rapid progress since its July 2012 inception.

“Our first stage was demonstrations to demand justice…and now we have reached the second stage to find solutions through negotiating and peace,” Mr. Rainsy shouted to his followers, who lined tents set up at Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum park.

The opposition leader said the deal cut with the CPP to allow members of the CNRP onto a restructured National Election Committee (NEC), a body long dominated by the CPP, was a vital step in the CNRP’s progress toward taking government.

“Only if there is a new NEC with independence and neutrality, working for democracy and justice, we will win, and this is what we are working on,” Mr. Rainsy said. “After changing the NEC, and the composition of the NEC, we will win and rule the country, and we will bring change to save the nation.”

The CNRP was established in July 2012 in a merger of the Sam Rainsy Party and Mr. Sokha’s Human Rights Party, which together won only 29 seats to the CPP’s 90 in the 2008 parliamentary election.

In last year’s election, the united CNRP secured 55 seats to the CPP’s 68, according to the official results. The outcome shattered Mr. Hun Sen’s narrative of near universal support among the electorate and sparked months of protests against him.

At Sunday’s convention, the first in the party’s history, about 5,000 CNRP National Council members and elected commune councilors were joined by about 2,000 party supporters.

Ten large LCD screens were spread down the aisles of the tents for those too far away from the stage to see, with an audiovisual crew making live cuts between shots of the speaker on the stage, the lawmakers-elect nearby and the doting audience.

Mr. Sokha, who was a lawmaker for the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party after the 1993 election and a Funcinpec senator after 1998, told the crowd he was well aware of the risks of cooperating with the CPP.

But the CNRP vice president emphasized that the party was not joining the CPP in a coalition and is still the opposition.

“In order to strengthen our popularity and to win the election soon, the CNRP will absolutely not join the government with the CPP in the fifth mandate,” Mr. Sokha said.

“If we join the government, we will become rotten.”

But Mr. Sokha also recognized that the success of the deal cut with the CPP, which has a long history of failing to uphold deals made with rivals, would depend on the ruling party’s cooperation.

“Whether it is good or bad will depend on the will of both parties and the honesty of each other,” Mr. Sokha said.

“If we are honest with each other, our country will have good fortune and be happy and prosperous for the people, but if one party betrays [the other], the people will judge.”

CNRP National Council members at the convention also took to the stage to announce that they were prepared to support the deal cut with the CPP despite it falling short of expectations.

Suon Chamroeun, a member of the National Council from Battambang province, said that many party officials had been surprised by the deal’s announcement but had come to accept it.

“Although this agreement does not suit our goals, we understand that the agreement is a good and reasonable choice for the CNRP under these conditions,” Mr. Chamroeun said.

“The council members from Battambang insist the CNRP’s top leaders guarantee in front of the people here that they will not enter the National Assembly until this agreement has been implemented, as we know the CPP has cheated Funcinpec,” he said.

On the stage, Mr. Rainsy reminded the audience that the CNRP had been given permission to open a television station and said the party was being pragmatic by taking whatever it can in its quest to secure a peaceful transfer of power from the CPP.

“Please, brothers and sisters, have a sense of realism, to do what we can do right now to avoid bloodshed,” Mr. Rainsy said. “We are avoiding risk and danger and spending a little time, but taking clear and realistic steps to reach our goal.”

Working groups from the CPP and CNRP will meet today to discuss the final details of the political reforms outlined in last week’s deal.

Of particular concern to the opposition is the selection of the ninth member of the NEC, who is supposed to be selected by consensus between both parties. But failure to agree on the ninth member, according to last week’s agreement, will result in the current NEC remaining in place.

Mr. Rainsy said on Friday that if the parties are able to agree on the details of the agreement, the CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers could be sworn into the National Assembly on Tuesday.

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