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Cambodia's sole opposition party to revert to old name.

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 18 Kyodo

Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party plans to revert as early as possible to its old name, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP), which party leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday was stolen ahead of the July 1998 national election.

"We intend to reverse back to the KNP," Rainsy told Kyodo News, adding that it will do so "as soon as we feel secure, and we feel assured that this trick will not be played again against us."

The opposition leader was referring to a move by the Interior Ministry just five months before the 1998 election to register a renegade group of former KNP members as an official party with the same name and logo as Rainsy's party.

"It was a good pretext for the government to say that they cannot register two parties with the same names," Rainsy said, adding that it was part of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) strategy to undermine the opposition's electoral prospects.

A similar thing happened with the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, long led by octogenarian CPP opponent Son Sann. A court ruled the name belonged to a pro-CPP splinter faction, leading the Son Sann group to change its name to the Son Sann Party.

"So in order to resolve that trouble and to be recognized officially we had to move to a name that nobody can steal," he said.

Rainsy likened the tactic to that used in 1996 by then Indonesian President Suharto when he helped create a splinter group in popular opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party to undermine her power base.

The rival KNP faction, which had vowed to cooperate with the CPP, changed its name to the Khmer Angkor Party shortly before the election. It failed to win any seats in the 122-member National Assembly.

Rainsy's party won 15 seats, while the CPP got 64 seats and the royalist FUNCINPEC party took 43 seats. The CPP and FUNCINPEC subsequently formed a coalition government.

Rainsy acknowledged he has occasionally been asked by people unfamiliar with Cambodian political affairs "why I was so ego-driven to call my party after myself." He said those concerns were easily put to rest by explaining the history behind the name change.

Rainsy would not reveal when the reversion would take place other than to say it will be "when we feel secure that there will not be a similar problem as soon as we revert to our old name."

"We have to be careful. It would be not good to reverse back and forth, back and forth. We have to make sure that the judiciary is independent enough not to be a tool of the ruling party to crack down on the opposition party by a kind of administrative harassment."

"By giving a date they will wait for you to change the name and then they'll create the same problem, they'll make you look ridiculous, and then you have to take another defensive move," he said.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Aug 23, 1999
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