A Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker is calling on young Cham party activists to rally support for the opposition party, expressing a desire to see a politician from the Muslim minority join the National Assembly.
Mao Monyvann, a CNRP parliamentarian representing Kampong Cham province, took to Facebook on Wednesday telling Cham CNRP activists to do outreach work in their communities to “strengthen the support from Khmer Muslims [Cham], and try to find the individuals [who] are willing to serve the people, build their capacity to be ready for the commune election [in] 2017 and become a candidate for member of parliament in the national election [in] 2018.”
Monyvann, in an interview yesterday, said that due to the large number of Cham CNRP members at the grassroots level, he is optimistic about finding a qualified candidate for office.
“We believe that in the coming mandate, there will be candidates who can . . . be elected in some provinces with a high Khmer Muslim population.”
Sos Mossin, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religion and head of the Cambodian Muslim Association, said that while his own Cambodian People’s Party does not actively encourage Chams to seek office, he recognised that Cham youth are increasingly interested in politics.
All the same, what truly matters is that the ruling party cares about its Cham constituency, he said.
“It is not necessary that there must be a Khmer Muslim to work as provincial governor or to hold [a] minister position if we want to have development,” he said.
Ok Serei Sopheak, an independent political consultant, said that while the CNRP was courting the Cham vote with their minds on 2017-18, the CPP had spent years consolidating loyal power structures within the community.
“The CPP have been mobilising, entertaining, providing jobs, providing political functions, providing membership within the government to the leaders of those Cham communities,” Sopheak said.
Noted Cham scholar Ysa Osman provided a similar analysis of the two parties’ strategies, but noted disapprovingly that “the strategy of the CPP is to give gifts and threaten”.
Indeed, in October, Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly warned Cambodian Muslims to be wary of political propaganda “similar to the Khmer Rouge’s propaganda in the past”, a reference to the targeted killings of the minority during the Democratic Kampuchea regime, which some saw as an implicit threat and swipe at the CNRP courting Cham votes.
“Having a representative that is Khmer Muslim is important, because Khmer Muslims understand Khmer Muslim issues best,” Osman said.
The last Cham to hold an elected national political office was former Funcinpec education minister Tol Loh, who left government in 2008.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON