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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'New' royalists hold first congress

'New' royalists hold first congress

The newly formed Hang Dara Movement Democracy Party held its first party congress

in Phnom Penh on September 22, and members heard from its newly selected president

that it would win 20 seats in next year's parliamentary election.

Hang Dara also claimed that 200,000 former Funcinpec voters would leave the royalist

party before the 2003 poll, saying it had failed its supporters.

"Funcinpec betrayed us ... therefore, we have walked out from the party,"

said Dara. "We worked for Funcinpec for more than 20 years to bring it to power

without money to support us. Now we have to work for our new party since we have

seen that Funcinpec actually serves the interests of [the ruling] CPP."

Dara remains a controversial figure: he claims to have worked for Funcinpec during

the 1980s recruiting members for the resistance movement fighting Vietnamese forces

along the Thai border. Funcinpec officials have denied that he was ever a member

of the party.

More than 1,000 participants at the congress heard Dara repeat his assertion that

he had worked for the royalists in the past but he said the party had now changed.

"Funcinpec was originally against illegal immigration, corruption, and dictatorship,"

he said. "It also aimed to reduce poverty, but [Funcinpec party leader] Prince

Norodom Ranariddh no longer has the political will to carry out such a program."

Dara also accused Funcinpec of nepotism and corruption, saying it was issues like

these that would enable his party to do well in the 2003 elections, provided the

poll was free and fair.

He appealed to the international community to ensure the elections were free from

intimidation, saying it was especially important that the National Election Committee

(NEC) was neutral.

A number of opposition parties have expressed disquiet about the make-up of the NEC,

whose supposedly unbiased members are to be selected by the Ministry of the Interior.

Some delegates at the congress seemed unsure about voting for Hang Dara's party.

Pong Rithy, 49, a civil servant and former CPP voter said he had taken part in the

meeting to see if the party would be a good choice in 2003. He remains undecided.

"I don't know who I will vote for because I am still looking for leadership

that can bring real democracy and justice for society," said Rithy.

Others such as Kruy Tuy, a 65-year-old former Funcinpec supporter from Kandal province,

were more clear about their affiliation.

"I voted for Funcinpec before because Dara said that only the royalist party

could protect national sovereignty," said Tuy. "But now he has split from

Funcinpec, so I'll continue to follow him."

And a former Funcinpec resistance fighter, 58-year-old Prak Sovann, said he was disillusioned

and had quit his original party.

"I don't like Funcinpec now because of the party's corruption and nepotism,"

he said. "Since they got into power, they don't take care of us."

He predicted that many former comrades would also abandon Funcinpec.

"I don't know who they will vote for, but it won't be Funcinpec anymore,"

he said.

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