The idea of an alliance between the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP) in Cambodia slowly but surely reached the successful shores of completion. The presidents of both parties, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, signed on Thursday January 15th a common declaration officially establishing the “Democratic Movement for Change”, sealed with a frenetic handshake and a mutual smile. In Kem Sokha's own words, this “historic” moment was welcomed with profuse applause by elected representatives and campaigners from both opposition political formations gathered for the occasion at the SRP headquarters. From now on, the candidates will stand for election under one name but insisted their Movement was in no way the merging of their respective parties.
The idea of a Movement had been ripening for a while
When they registered their formations at the Cambodian National Election Committee (NEC) before the July 2008 legislative elections, the issue was raised. They eventually decided to stand for election as two different parties. After the July 27th 2008 elections, which confirmed the domination of Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) on the Cambodian political scene, SRP and HRP leaders, together with representatives of the FUNCINPEC and Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), presented a united front in their protest against the election results. A long crusade of denunciation ensued, but Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha soon found themselves alone in the equation and battling side by side for their common cause.
Since then, they often aligned themselves with each other's ideas without however setting up any official rapprochement between their parties. On December 18th, Kem Sokha, back from a trip to North America, expressed his wish for the creation of the alliance they had mentioned many times before. The principle of the alliance seemed more or less established since on September 17th 2008, both parties had set up a technical committee in charge of laying the foundations for their union, composed of representatives from both formations.
Initiating change with a view to change society
The new “Democratic Movement for Change”, as its name suggests, aims at gathering “true democratic forces” with the continuous goal of operating “change in the Cambodian society”, Kem Sokha explained in an introduction to the press conference called for the occasion. “The creation of this Movement will allow citizens to make their choice more easily in future elections, and it is a response to a request made by our fellow-citizens”, he added.
Sam Rainsy, answering a question formulated by Mam Sonando, director of Radio Beehive (FM 105) who was in the audience among other journalists, publicly thanked him for having encouraged, very early, both parties to unite. To Mam Sonando's question on whether the formations had thought over the conditions of their alliance to prevent a potential separation in the future, the SRP president replied that discussions on that subject had started the very day after the legislative elections. “After the elections, we both made the same observation: time had come to change the direction of the country, and besides it is currently a trend in democratic countries. As a consequence we will elaborate a joint list to stand for the 2012 communal elections and the next legislative elections in 2013. I am convinced that other political formations will join our alliance”, he said, hopeful.
SRP / HRP? Who will hold the reins?
But what about the allocation of tasks and the roles of each within the Movement? The crowd of journalists was dying to receive an answer, but Sam Rainsy shrugged it off, insisting that “what matters is change”. “Cambodia and the Khmer people need change. And for democratic change to happen, the people must have a new choice!”, he maintained.
Neither of them set conditions on the way responsibilities will be allocated. “We do not need to do that. We will not compete, and rivalries between our parties will not matter much. If any competition there is, it will then be with another party. The goal is to have more influence than that party... [...] In a word, anyone will be entitled to be a candidate to the position of Prime Minister or president of the Movement, as long as these persons respect the principles of the Movement”, Sam Rainsy detailed.
Kem Sokha agreed with his political partner: “The problem is not there. What we want is to serve the interest of the nation and Khmer citizens. If we need power, it is democratic power we are talking about! Our Movement has a solid foundation and a position which is far from being inconsistent. We are not affiliated to any other Cambodian political party and we do not depend on any foreign group. [...] We will not argue about power, but we will act on behalf of the Democratic Movement for Change, not on behalf of the SRP or the HRP.”
“Should disagreements arise, this will not mean that we have become enemies. Unity will prevail, it is a principle!”, Kem Sokha asserted. As for Sam Rainsy, no concern to be raised on that matter either. He gave as an example the case of the United States: “Before being elected president, Barack Obama was Hillary Clinton's rival. But after the elections, he offered her the position of Secretary of State [the equivalent of a Minister of Foreign Affairs] and even kept the Minister of Defence from G. W. Bush's government!”
Perspectives on the long run
Sam Rainsy claimed he believed in the longevity of their Movement, “which must hold on at least until we meet our goal: achieving democratic change”. In a merely concealed reference to difficulties encountered by the FUNCINPEC and its alliances with the CPP, he promised that the Democratic Movement for Change would not be weakened by petty internal quarrels “like other parties” suffered in 1998 and 2003. He did not fail to have a dig at “some” who chose to rally to the ruling party in exchange for good job positions and money.
The SRP and the HRP will continue discussing issues to detail in depth the new structure of the alliance. Sam Rainsy already foresees good results in the next election polls since “as it was the case in the United States, people always need change”. As a reminder, the SRP won 26 seats in the National Assembly and the HRP, 3, in the last legislative elections, out of a total of 123 MP seats. Kem Sokha, for his part, also nourishes “great hopes” for the next polls. “Here, we have already gathered strength and responded to a wish expressed by many citizens. Now, we still have to fight for free and fair elections”, he declared, before calling SRP and HRP activists to “work hand in hand as from today”.
Besides, to those who might question the legality of their alliance, both leaders said their action was part of a “legal, peaceful and democratic frame”. They called intellectuals in the country, Khmer citizens from Cambodia and abroad and other campaigners from other parties potentially tempted to take part in the adventure, to join the new alliance, because “the time has come to speak with one voice”.