Influx May Rankle Sam Rainsy Party Loyalists

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has opened his arms to a bloodied Funcinpec, offering defectors a place in his party in a bid to boost numbers—and clout—going into next year’s national elections.

But some observers see this as a gesture made only by Sam Rainsy and perhaps a few top party leaders, while the rank and file grumble about a sudden in­flux of former royalists who could de­mand key positions once held by longtime opposition members.

“Sam Rainsy could be in trouble if he embraces too many de­fectors,” said democracy activist Lao Mong Hay. “Positions are lim­ited and what about existing members of the Sam Rainsy Party?”

Already, Sam Rainsy claims hundreds, if not thousands of royalists across the country have fled Funcinpec infighting and joined the opposition, though there is no evidence yet of a mass, public defection. And while the Sam Rainsy Party probably has the logistical means to absorb any number of new members, one Asian diplomat said he is not sure party leaders are prepared for the possible clash of wills.

“Organizationally speaking, could the opposition take on some number of quarrelsome ex-Funcinpec members? Probably yes,” the diplomat said. “But personality-wise, these are people who are hard-headed. These are people who want to be somebody.”

Hard-headedness has already proven to be deadly to the ca­reers of some former opposition members thrown out of the Sam Rainsy Party for views that were contrary to the party line.

A 1999 firing of 16 party chiefs in the provinces caused some of the ousted officials to vandalize Sam Rainsy’s house and led to several rounds of legal threats that was viewed by observers as a major rift in the party.

Son Chhay, one of the opposition’s most outspoken members, said the party has plenty of room for newcomers but acknowledged there is some concern among the Sam Rainsy Party’s younger members who want to secure constituencies in Phnom Penh in the upcoming elections.

“Some of the demands from [former Funcinpec members] would be to stand in Phnom Penh,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a major problem.”


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