More than 10,000 Human Rights Party (HRP) supporters gathered July 22 at Olympic
Stadium as the fledgling party held its inaugural congress and declared that it intends
to bring power to the people and ultimately overcome the ruling CPP.
Among an array of pledges HRP founder and unanimously elected president, Kem Sokha,
promised to bring some 2.5 million Cambodians, who he claimed were unable to vote
in this year's commune elections, to the polls for the July 2008 national election.
"We hope that we can take over power in response to the needs of the people.
We will serve the people and ensure that they have power in their hands. Then they
can change society and build better living conditions," Kem Sokha told the Post
on July 23.
"After five years working in a human rights NGO, we found that people across
the country want change. So that's why we set up this party - to give a choice to
Sokha said that if the HRP wins a majority in the National Assembly, the party will
change the current political system. He promised to limit the term of the Prime Minister
and push for anti-corruption legislation.
During the congress, Pen Sovann, a former prime minister from the communist 1980s,
and former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmaker Keo Remy were elected as HRP's deputy
Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council and son of the late former prime
minister Son Sann, was voted in as chairman of the HRP's 36-member steering committee.
The party's national council has 244 members.
"It is time for Cambodian people to become the owners of the nation," Sokha
Sokha said the event cost the HRP some $60,000 for free transportation for people
from the provinces as well as water and food.
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitoring NGO Committee for Free and
Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said that some human rights activists have criticized
the HRP for linking the party's name to the activities of national and international
human rights organization.
"I think that the HRP will make the existing political parties weaker, but we're
not sure whether it will be the SRP or the CPP," Panha said.
But Ou Virak, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), said
that the HRP would encourage other political parties to present a clear political
platform to the public.
"I see now that most political parties have never established a clear political
program for Cambodian people about the proper development of the country," Virak
"They counter attack each other on personal issues, but no clear policy has
been announced for the public. I think that HRP is a real competitor for the elections
in 2008," Virak added.
Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information, told the Post on July 24 the CPP welcomed
the new party and said its entry confirmed that democracy in Cambodia is developing.
Sam Rainsy, president of the SRP, said that HRP would not impact his party's showing
"I am not interested and I am not concerned," Rainsy said.