- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

Leaders of Cambodia’s two pro-Western opposition parties said yesterday they are determined to stick together in a bid to drive longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen from power.

“Cambodia is going down the drain; it is dying slowly,” said Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and now one of the main figures in the newly formed Alliance for Democrats. “People should not underestimate our determination for change.”

Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a clear majority of the seats in the July parliamentary election, but failed to achieve the two-thirds majority in the 123-seat legislature needed to form a government on its own.

The royalist FUNCINPEC party, a junior partner in the previous government, and Mr. Sam Rainsy’s party hold 50 seats in the new parliament and are demanding a new prime minister as their price for supporting any new CPP-led government. The alliance, if it holds, would mark the first time in more than a decade that the government faced a unified opposition.

Mr. Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Siribuddh, secretary-general of FUNCINPEC and uncle of longtime royalist leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, are in Washington this week seeking Bush administration support against Mr. Hun Sen, who has dominated the Cambodian political landscape for two decades.

“We are hoping that the United States will pay more attention to promoting democratic, liberal values in our region,” said Prince Siribuddh. “It is not good for the United States simply to support stability at any price.”

The opposition leaders, who will meet with senior administration and congressional figures during their visit, paint a grim picture of a communist-dominated Cambodia in which election fraud is rampant, international aid is squandered, corruption has crippled the economy, and illiteracy and child mortality rates are on the rise.

The failing Cambodian state, they said, could prove a breeding ground for unrest and terrorism throughout Southeast Asia.

Hambali, the suspected mastermind of the October 2002 Bali bombing recently arrested in Thailand, spent months in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, eluding an international manhunt earlier this year.

While Mr. Sam Rainsy has a strong following in the West, there remains skepticism at home that the alliance of the feuding opposition parties will hold. Mr. Hun Sen has rejected calls that he resign, and his party, which retains a strong base of support among Cambodia’s rural voters, needs to pick off just a few opposition lawmakers in order to form a government.

Mr. Sam Rainsy denied the opposition parties were trying to subvert the election, which was generally peaceful but strongly criticized in the West for a series of irregularities.

“We recognize that the CPP has a right to nominate a candidate for prime minister, but we cannot support Hun Sen,” he said. “It is not personal considerations. We just think he has become a symbol of all that has failed in our country.”

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