Longtime Sam Rainsy Party supporters are feeling jilted by the party’s increasingly stringent membership requirements, some party members admit, but Sam Rainsy has downplayed the party’s infighting.
“In any living things there are conflicts—fights—but they are productive. This isn’t the first time and they’ve helped me to see things more clearly,” Sam Rainsy said Sunday.
Recent arguments have centered around the reluctance of the party’s old guard to allow new members into the party’s decision-making circles, Sam Rainsy explained one day after returning from a weekslong trip abroad.
“Current members are very particular,” Sam Rainsy said. “When the party was created, everybody was admitted but we’ve learned there are maybe one or two out of every 100 people who can create problems. But this is normal in any political party.”
Still, political observers say the party’s younger members are turning that frustration on each other, threatening the stability of a political organization already struggling for respect.
However, Sam Rainsy and other elder party members maintain the problems faced by the party are administrative and are not fatal to the party’s leadership or political stance.
“This is not a challenge to the fundamentals of the Sam Rainsy Party. It is not leading to splinter groups,” Sam Rainsy said.
Party solidarity will become increasingly important in the commune elections tentatively slated for next year. The Sam Rainsy Party holds 15 seats in the 122-member National Assembly. Other Assembly seats are held by CPP and Funcinpec. “For the SRP it’s important to have a grass-roots stronghold where the commune head doesn’t reflect the views of the totalitarian regime,” Sam Rainsy said.
But whereas Sam Rainsy said he has only to rely on the party’s ideological message to bring voters to the polls, other party members are more cautious, acknowledging the dangers—intimidation and physical violence—that come with supporting the party.
“What we have to do is find a way to make people not afraid to join the party,” explained parliamentarian Son Chhay, who said the party is beginning to look toward low to mid-ranking civil servants to bolster its ranks.
But diplomatic sources familiar with Cambodia’s volatile political scene say the Sam Rainsy Party’s success relies less heavily on swelling members than it does on firm leadership.
“Everything boils down to Sam Rainsy,” said one diplomatic official. “And he hasn’t been around for many of the important issues.”