PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The question of whether or not the Khmer for Khmer movement was political was answered yesterday with the official launch of a new political party – the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP).
The GDP, which comprises Khmer for Khmer’s founding members, will register with the Ministry of Interior today, its newly elected president Yeng Virak said. The party will contest seats in the commune elections scheduled for 2017 as well as the national election slated for the following year, he added.
The former president of the Community Legal Education Center – and one of the most respected civil society leaders in the Kingdom – was elected by a landslide yesterday afternoon, taking 97 of 104 votes cast at the party’s inaugural meeting at its new headquarters in San Sok district.
Mr. Virak told reporters that all leaders elected yesterday were temporary.
NGO and Opposition Roots
The party’s membership comprises a who’s who of civil society and social researchers, as well as a handful of members of opposition parties. Its vice president is Sam Son Doeun, a former member of the Sam Rainsy Party, which merged with the Human Rights Party to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party in 2012.
Sam Inn, former deputy director of NGO Life with Dignity (an offshoot of the Lutheran World Federation), was elected secretary general of the GDP.
Yang Saing Komar, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, is also a co-founding member of the party.
“Culture of Hope”
Mr. Inn said that the difference between the GDP party and its rivals is that its internal management system will not be top-down. It will also avoid the bitterness feuding and negativity of the other parties, he said.
“Our party will have a culture of hope, love and respect to replace the cruelty of the other political parties,” Mr. Inn said.
The party currently has 10 to 15 representatives in only 10 communes. These are confined to Phnom Penh, Kampong Speu, Kampot, and Takeo.
Mr. Inn said the party would expand to 100 communes by early next year and that it hoped to have about 40 representatives in each of them.
“The goal of a grassroots party is to train local residents on how to be community leaders,” he said.
Maintaining representatives at the community level will ensure that the needs of communities are the party’s priorities and that community development is its heart, Mr. Inn added.
Ruling Party Supportive
Chhim Phal Virun, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – which has frequently been described as authoritarian, brutal and corrupt – hailed the arrival of a new political party as being “good for democracy.”
“We support Cambodian citizens to use political freedom to establish parties. It shows we can share one Constitution but have different views,” he said.
“Cambodians with different visions can live together, but foreigners who are just guests cannot join hands in political issues,” he added.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said it is the right of all people to start political parties, but questioned why there are many political parties in Cambodia that are not active.
The CNRP is not worried about losing supporters to new rival parties, Mr. Ponhearith said.
In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times late last month, CNRP president Sam Rainsy said he was not worried about “mini parties” diluting the opposition. “This is not the first time we have faced such rivals,” he said, explaining that they are not a threat because they lack strong networks at the grassroots level.
“This is the secret [to having a viable party],” Mr. Rainsy said. “No party can achieve success without a strong grassroots network and such networks cannot be created out of the blue.”
He said it took two decades for the opposition to build a network of “strong and dedicated activists.”
Political analyst Ou Virak praised the model of the Grassroots Democratic Party, saying it was more democratic because policies would flow from communities to leaders.
Mr. Virak said that if the new party adheres to this model it will have a shot at drawing supporters. Of the three new parties that have started this year the GDP was “less combative,” he added.
This middle path could, however, make it difficult to gain supporters because it may lack the ability to captivate, he said.