Some 6,000 Sam Rainsy Party supporters and officials gathered at the opposition party headquarters in Phnom Penh on Friday on the first day of their annual party congress.
Seated beneath blue-plastic tarpaulin, the party faithful—wearing Sam Rainsy Party baseball caps and T-shirts—were treated to hours of fiery speeches from the party leadership who claimed the time for political change in Cambodia was near.
The congress also re-elected Sam Rainsy as the party’s president and elected 100 members to the important Steering Committee, a move that more than doubles the body’s number from its previous 48 members.
Launching the congress, Sam Rainsy concentrated his opening speech on the problems of poverty, corruption and how his party will tackle both following the July 27 general elections.
In true opposition fashion, Sam Rainsy also blasted Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s royalist Funcinpec party, but surprisingly offered an olive branch to the ruling CPP.
“There remains only two choices people will vote for in the coming election,” he said.
“Whether they still vote for the communist party, who have achieved nothing in the last 20 years…or they vote for Sam Rainsy Party,” he said.
“I am convinced the next government will be the Sam Rainsy government,” Sam Rainsy said, adding that Funcinpec was no longer an contender for government.
Sam Rainsy also floated the possibility of a coalition with the ruling CPP, but without their leader Hun Sen.
“I have dreamed that Mr Hun Sen will move to take over legislative power such as Senate or National Assembly,” he said alluding to a retirement post that could allow the opposition and CPP collaborate.
Though the opposition has been riding high on a wave of defection from the Funcinpec party, the tide was turned on Thursday evening with the announcement that Sam Rainsy Parliamentarian Hor Sopheap had defected to the royalist party.
Hor Sopheap said he had become disenchanted with Sam Rainsy’s, authoritarian style of leadership, and had led 15 other former opposition followers over to Funcinpec.
Funcinpec party officials have also accused Sam Rainsy of scheming to destroy the Funcinpec party, a move that was dividing democrats and would only strengthen the ruling CPP.
The officials also claim that thousands of grass-roots Sam Rainsy voter are moving to the royalist party, more than 150 of which traveled to Phnom Penh this week to meet Funcinpec officials.
(Additional reporting Kevin Doyle)