Sourn Serey Ratha, firebrand president of the newly legalised Khmer Power Party, wasted no time in lashing out at Cambodia’s two main political parties following his arrival at the Phnom Penh airport yesterday morning, saying he wanted to create a joint alliance of smaller parties to counter their influence.
Speaking upon his return from self-imposed exile in the United States, the Cambodian-American nationalist railed against the leaders of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party for their long terms in office and incompetence.
“I will only stop criticising the government as long as the government stops doing wrong,” he said, surrounded by about 100 supporters.
Ratha, once branded a “terrorist” by Prime Minister Hun Sen and sentenced to seven years in jail over a Facebook post that urged the overthrow of the government, was pardoned in July in a move some analysts said was made to swell the field in hopes of splitting the opposition vote.
But Ratha dismissed that allegation yesterday, adding that he hoped to unite with other small parties currently without seats in Cambodia’s parliament.
“We know there are parties in the National Assembly who received votes from citizens, just not enough [to gain seats],” he said. “So we want to seek an alliance to struggle for a joint political platform, not create only one party.”
Ratha said the joint platform had five main points under discussion: creating a National Election Committee free from political influence, eliminating Vietnamese names from the voter rolls, granting voting rights to Cambodians abroad, allowing people to directly run for prime minister and introducing term limits for the premiership.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that Ratha’s new party, built on the foundations of his former Khmer People Power Movement – which just last week saw three of its members released after serving two years in prison for distributing T-shirts – wouldn’t harm the CNRP’s chances during upcoming elections in 2017 and 2018.
“He is not a competitor of the CNRP,” said Sovann.
Four new political parties have entered the Cambodian political scene this year, which the CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the ruling party was happy to compete with.
“He can criticise [us]; go ahead. If he criticises us correctly, we will take it into account, we welcome it,” Eysan said. “But if he criticises us by merely insulting us, that falls into criminal law and that is his problem.”
Future Forum founder Ou Virak, however, said the legalisation of Ratha’s new party, despite his past calls to topple the CPP-led government, was a clear move to split opposition votes.
“The ruling party wants it like this,” he said.