Royalists, CPP May Unify for 2008 Election

Funcinpec is proposing to merge with the CPP to face-off against the Sam Rainsy Party in the 2008 national election, Funcin­pec and National Assembly Pres­ident Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Thursday.

Prince Ranariddh said he and Prime Minister Hun Sen had spoke of formally joining the two parties before the next election. But, he said, the idea is yet to be approved by members of their respective parties.

“If we can merge the two parties together, this is the vital key to offer long-term political stability to the country,” Prince Ranariddh told reporters outside the Assem­bly. “People will be happy when we are working together.”

CPP spokesman and Infor­mation Minister Khieu Kanharith confirmed Thursday that Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh had discussed a merger.

“We welcome [Funcinpec] to merge with the party but we have to discuss with [CPP and Senate President] Chea Sim first,” he said.

As long as the 72-year-old party president agrees, the CPP will hold a meeting of its permanent committee, as well as a party congress, to move forward with a merger, Khieu Kanharith said.

He acknowledged, however, that smoothing the differences be­tween the two parties could pose some difficulty. “There are still some problems at the ground level,” he said.

Neither Khieu Kanharith nor Prince Ranariddh offered possible names for a new joint-party.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy welcomed the challenge of a CPP-Funcinpec merger, saying such a move would only help his party at the polls. “The Sam Rainsy Party would be­come the only alternative to the CPP,” he said. “This will give voters a crystal-clear choice…. The vote for SRP will be a vote for change.”

He added that his party wished to propose an amendment to the 1993 Constitution, that would allow a party to win power with only a simple majority, or more than 50 percent, of seats in the National Assembly instead of the two-thirds majority currently needed to form a government. That would eliminate the need to form a coalition government in the event of a deadlock, as was experienced after last year’s election, in which the CPP won 72 seats, Funcinpec 26 and the Sam Rainsy Party 24. The amendment would also raise the opposition’s chances of winning the next vote, Sam Rainsy said.

Sam Rainsy said the prince’s announcement was a sign Funcinpec did not consider itself a true contender in the next election.

“There is no future for Funcinpec. The only way out with [Prince Ranariddh] is to try to match with the CPP, otherwise Funcinpec will be wiped out,” Sam Rainsy said.

Over the past decade, Funcinpec has plummeted in popularity, slipping from number one at the 1993 polls to the second spot in the 2003 election, edging ahead of the Sam Rainsy Party by a narrow margin. In recent weeks, Funcinpec has also faced an internal dispute, as a group of 19 of its former governors and deputy governors called for the removal of Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince No­ro­dom Sirivudh, alleging corruption was involved in their replacements.

Tep Nonnary, former royalist party Kandal province governor, ex­pressed opposition to Prince Ranariddh’s idea of joining the CPP. “The Funcinpec party will lose its identity,” he said. “Funcinpec’s reform strategy is making the par­ty go from being strong to weaker.”

Such a merger, however, is un­likely to materialize, given the par­ty’s historical differences, one political analyst said.

“Funcinpec has their own identity,” said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “I don’t know how they will merge together.”

Still, he said, beyond surface differences, none of the three parties have distinct policy platforms—the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party all claim to stand for similar government reforms, such as transparency, anti-corruption and accountability.

On Wednesday, CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum and Prince Sirivudh met for about an hour at the Cambodiana Hotel, marking their first official tete-a-tete since the two parties formed their coalition government in July.

Prince Ranariddh said Thursday that the two leaders met to “foster cooperation” between the two parties. The Funcinpec president told re­porters he had heard that the op­position party had already sought the CPP out about joining them in a coalition government in 2008—a claim the opposition flatly denied.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he had a rare meeting with CPP Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong on Wednesday, but they had not discussed the possibility of a coalition.

“We’re not interested,” Son Chhay said.


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