Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Newfound Political Alliances Seek to Contest CPP in 2023 Elections

Yem Ponhearith (left), president of the Kampuchea Niyum Party, shakes hands with Nhek Bun Chhay (right), president of the Khmer National United Party, during a meeting to announce their new alliance at Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh on October 10, 2022. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Yem Ponhearith (left), president of the Kampuchea Niyum Party, shakes hands with Nhek Bun Chhay (right), president of the Khmer National United Party, during a meeting to announce their new alliance at Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh on October 10, 2022. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

The Kampuchea Niyum Party (KNP) merged under the Khmer National United Party (KNUP) on Monday, in the latest alliance of minor opposition parties seeking to bolster support for the 2023 national elections.  

But analysts say the opposition remains too fragmented to mount any serious challenge to the ruling CPP, which won almost every commune chief seat in the 2022 commune elections.

KNP president Yem Ponhearith and KNUP president Nhek Bun Chhay said their alliance would promote democracy and counter-balance the leading opposition Candlelight Party, which they portrayed as pro-Western and anti-communist.  

“Our new political policy is centrist in that we do not exclusively favor any side, we cooperate with all political parties and connect with all countries,” said Chhay, at a press conference in Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel. 

Ponhearith, a former CNRP lawmaker, launched KNP in 2021 after his 2017 ban from politics was lifted last year. 

Chhay, a former general with the royalist Funcinpec party, founded KNUP in 2016. Arrested in 2017 for alleged drug production, he was cleared of the charges in March 2022, before the June commune elections. 

Both parties ran on platforms touting the need to strengthen human rights. They each contested about one-third of the 1,652 communes in the 2022 elections, but failed to win any commune chief positions. 

Political analyst Em Sovannara said that most of Cambodia’s minor parties do not have enough popularity and will fail to win National Assembly seats. Multiple alliances of different minor parties has fractured the opposition, he added. 

“But if all minor parties merge into one party with the Candlelight Party, it is a huge democratic power that can contest the Cambodian People’s Party,” he said. 

Earlier in October, the Khmer Will Party announced an alliance under the Candlelight Party to better compete against the CPP. Candlelight was the only opposition party to win commune chief seats, receiving four. The remaining 1,648 positions were taken by the CPP, according to the National Election Committee. 

Yet Meas Nee, a social researcher and political analyst, applauded minor political parties for allying together, noting it was a step toward uniting people in the pro-democracy movement after the CNRP’s court-ordered dissolution in 2017. 

“As we know that pro-democracy groups have been disbanded, merging to work together is a positive step for pro-democracy parties to rebuild their power,” he said. 

Nee added that a stronger opposition would be healthy for society and governance. 

“There is competition in democratic society and when there is one party which potentially can compete with the ruling CPP, it will make the ruling party do more work,” he said.  

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said he was unfazed by the new political alliance between KNP and KNUP because neither party had won seats in the commune elections.  

“Political alliance or splitting from each other, it is their political right,” he said.  

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