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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Activist to lead new political party

Activist to lead new political party

Cambodia’s political scene is about to get a little more crowded with the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) set to file its official registration papers today, having elected veteran human rights activist Yeng Virak as its president yesterday.

However, despite organisers’ claims that the fledgling party will disrupt the current political status quo, analysts and the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, were sceptical that the new entrant will make much of splash.

“We hope that the Ministry of Interior will officially approve the GDP within 15 days,” said Sam Inn, general director of the GDP.

The GDP elected Virak, formerly of the Community Legal Education Center, as its first president during a 100-person congress yesterday.

Inn said the GDP was created to set up a grassroots network across the country, with the aim of challenging the political establishment dominated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP.

“We found that the current political parties’ decision making was [concentrated] at the top leadership, which is contrary to the democratic leadership,” said Inn.

“Our party will allow the grassroots to elect their leadership.”

Inn said the GDP, which was started by former political analyst Kem Ley and Yang Saing Koma, founder of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, would work to increase its network after it is officially approved by the Interior Ministry.

“We aim to take 100 commune seats in the upcoming commune elections of 2017,” he said.

A slew of smaller parties have entered the Cambodian political arena over the past year, in what some analysts say is an attempt to dilute the power of the CNRP, which was formed in 2012 after the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party merged.

However, independent political analyst Chea Vannath was unconvinced that the GDP would have much of an effect.

“I think the GDP can only make a little impact, but this is a democratic [arena] which addresses a widening of political rights and election participation in Cambodia,” said Vannath.

Other parties which aim to compete in upcoming elections have been resurrected recently, such as Beehive Radio founder Mam Sonando’s Beehive Social Democratic Party, which was resuscitated in April.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh returned in January as head of the royalist Funcinpec party, which has slid towards irrelevance since its heyday in the 1990s, failing to win a single seat in parliament in 2013.

The nationalist Khmer People’s Power Movement was also legalised by the government in March despite having been labelled a “terrorist group” beforehand.

Nevertheless, the CNRP brushed aside fears that the non-CPP vote would be increasingly splintered.

“We welcome this new political party and are not concerned about this challenge”, said opposition spokesman Yem Ponharith.

“The Cambodian people, and especially the youth, have many ways to access information about political parties and have their own ideas for making decisions before they cast their ballots.”

As for the CPP, which would stand to gain from a fractured opposition, spokesman Sok Eysan said the ruling party “welcomed” the formal arrival of the GDP to Cambodia’s political landscape.

“The CPP is not narrow-minded, and we welcome the participation of all political parties.”

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