Rainsy Party Meeting Comes as Rumors Fly

Sam Rainsy isn’t likely to lose his job as the head of his self-named political party, but party elections to be held during a congress this weekend may expose a greater level of political infighting than the opposition leader would like to admit exists.

Rumors of internal rifts in the party have been blamed by Sam Rainsy and others on political opponents allegedly trying to split the party by discrediting the most vocal critic of the government.

But the past year has been marked by a reshuffling of senior officials and the expulsion of several members, some of whom cried foul after their departure—saying publicly they were strip­ped of their party status for questioning Sam Rain­sy’s authority.

Sam Rainsy has repeatedly count­ered these accusations by claiming the former members were agents working for his party’s political opponents, namely the Cambodian People’s Party.

But while they tend to downplay the extent to which some party members may be unhappy, Sam Rainsy and other party leaders have acknowledged some dissent between party veterans and younger members.

“There is tension between those who support Sam Rainsy’s ideals but not his tactics, and those younger, more critical or provocative members,” one western diplomat said Thursday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Sam Rainsy said Thursday he would welcome a challenge to his party presidency, saying elections would create a “more direct democracy” and that he was “not afraid of the will of the people.”

“This is the most important congress for our party so far,” Sam Rainsy said, explaining that, in addition to the elections, this weekend would give party leaders a chance to display the widespread party support that allegedly exists in the countryside.

As many as 5,000 people may attend the congress, according to Sam Rainsy. He said enough transportation and lodging has so far been arranged for about 3,500 people from the provinces, where political analysts say Sam Rainsy’s influence is weak but party members claim a strong grass-roots movement exists.

“You should not look at appearance. There are the signs of the CPP every 50 meters and you can be struck by how few signs the Sam Rainsy Party has,” Sam Rainsy said. “But what is important is that in the heart of each of those people is an invisible Sam Rainsy Party sign.”

The congress follows a period of unusually heavy criticism of Sam Rainsy by CPP and Fun­cinpec leaders, who have publicly questioned his loyalty to Cam­bodia and threatened his status as a parliamentarian.

Sam Rainsy has responded by making several high-profile gestures, including suing the widely-read newspaper Rasmei Kamp­uchea (Light of Cambodia) and submitting to the National As­sembly his own version of a draft law for the Khmer Rouge trial that almost directly opposed that endorsed by the government.

“Symbolically, [this congress] is very important because it is the largest gathering of support for a UN-run trial,” Sam Rainsy said.

Party leaders have also extended invitations to top CPP and Funcinpec members, though officials in both parties say attendance is not likely.

“If we go we will be accused of interfering with his congress,” said Khieu Kanharith, spokes­man for the CPP.

, which usually bears the brunt of Sam Rainsy’s criticism.



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