Sam Rainsy Promises to Reform Opposition

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy this week promised internal elections as part of a reform agenda to transform the party from a voice of op­position to a credible apparatus cap­able of taking the government’s reins after the 2008 elections.

Elections will be held in the com­ing year for posts, ranging from the village level to party president, Sam Rainsy said. He also an­nounced plans to set up a model com­mune—an example of life under a Sam Rainsy Party-controlled government.

“We need reform to change from the opposition party to the rul­ing party,” Sam Rainsy said Wednesday, marking the party’s ninth anniversary in a ceremony at its Phnom Penh headquarters.

Support for the Sam Rainsy Party has grown steadily since its creation in 1995. In last year’s na­tional elections, it won a majority of the vote in Phnom Penh and challenged Funcinpec for runner-up status.

The reforms attempt to address two nagging criticisms: That the opposition has not proven it is capable of managing the country, and that party President Sam Rainsy and his wife, parliamentarian Tioulong Saumura, micromanage party af­fairs.

Predicting that Funcinpec will con­tinue its slide in public popularity, the opposition plans to champion experienced parliamentarians such as Son Chhay and newcomers like Mu Sochua, the former royalist minister of women’s af­fairs who defected to the opposition earlier last year.

“That’s the new face of the op­po­si­tion now,” said Ron Abney, interim country director for the Inter­na­tional Republican Institute, a US-funded organization that advises the Sam Rainsy Party.

“The party is evolving from anti-Hun Sen, anti-corruption and pro-human rights, to a party of sophis­ti­cation, development and growth,” he said. “It’s becoming a party that can govern.”

As part of its more professional image, Sam Rainsy said the party will scale back on anti-government rhe­toric and focus on preparing for government positions alongside the CPP in 2008. He said the re­forms are necessary as the po­liti­cal scene shapes up for a two-party system with the opposition challenging the CPP.

“The Funcinpec party will be elim­­inated because [party president] Prince Norodom Rana­riddh betrayed the people,” Sam Rainsy said. “We want the people to see what we will be doing when we become the ruling party.”

In its model commune, schools and hospitals will be built, and teach­ers will receive higher wages, Sam Rainsy said. He did not dis­­close which commune will be used as a model.

Funcinpec and CPP officials scof­fed at the opposition’s plans and predicted their coalition to con­tinue beyond 2008. “I think Sam Rainsy is dreaming,” said Tuot Lux, a spokesman for Fun­cinpec.

Added Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen: “Sam Rainsy’s mistake was that he did not prepare himself to join the government this year.”

(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)

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