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From plowshares to gavels

The Human Rights Party is reaching out to rural voters in next month's general election with promises of greater participation in politics though a nationwide farmers' congress.

“If the economy is to grow and benefit farmers, the farmers need to have a voice in government policy through a strong, designated organization,” HRP leader Kem Sokha said in an interview with the Post earlier this month.

“If the HRP wins in the elections and we lead the government, we will set up a national farmers’ congress,” he said. “The aim is to show that if agriculture is progressive, economics are progressive too.”

Around 80 percent of Cambodia's population is engaged in some type of farming, making the agriculture sector a potentially powerful political force. The proposed farmers' congress would meet once a year to give participants a chance to weigh in on the government's agriculture policies, Sokha said.

“Farmers are the major force in the development of our national economy. If we side with farmers, we will win the election and our entire nation will also win,” he said. “This could be the surprise of the elections of 2008, as more farmers turn to vote for the HRP.”

The president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), Dr Yang Saing Koma, has endorsed the idea of a farmers' congress, saying that CEDAC has been working toward a similar goal by gathering farmers at commune, district and provincial levels to share ideas on agricultural production.

“It is very good that a political party dares to talk like this without fearing that it is impossible. But, if they are going to politicize this idea, they should try to stick to it until they are successful,” Saing Koma said.

Agriculture Ministry Secretary of State Lim Sokun dismissed the idea as a political ploy to attract votes ahead of the July 27 election, telling the Post on June 10 that actually establishing a congress would be more difficult than Sokha was leading farmers to believe.

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