Lon Rith, the son of former Cambodian president Lon Nol, has announced his intention to contest next year’s commune elections at the head of the Khmer Republican Party, claiming a support base of more than 100,000 members.
Speaking to reporters at the party’s headquarters yesterday, Lon Rith, who lives in California, said his party is restructuring itself in advance of the 2012 poll.
Lon Rith said the KRP, which undertook a largely unsuccessful national election campaign in 2008, would aim to support the work of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and would run on a platform of preserving natural resources safeguarding Cambodia’s territorial integrity.
The KRP’s overriding objective, he said, was to encourage development.
“I have a principle to arrange the country to be as progressive as other countries,” he said, adding that he would aim to empower grassroots organisations at the commune level.
In March 1970, Lon Rith’s father Lon Nol overthrew then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk in a coup, ushering in a five-year experiment with republican government.
Lon Nol’s regime, which was overthrown by the communist Khmer Rouge in April 1975, was marked by its close alignment with the United States, which provided backing for the civil war effort.
It also broke with centuries of tradition by abolishing the Cambodian monarchy, which was not restored until 1993.
Speaking yesterday, Lon Rith played down his party’s link to the Khmer Republic, saying he had not intention to reproduce its anti-monarchist stance.
“The Khmer Republican Party respects our constitution. We will not do anything contrary to the constitution,” he said.
Lon Rith previously returned to Cambodia prior to the 2008 national election. At the time, he told The Post that he wanted “to elevate the people, give them a voice, and give them, not just hope, but the basic needs and necessities: food, education, jobs and a higher standard of living”.
In the end, the party won just 11,693 votes in nine provinces – around 0.19 percent of the popular vote.
Lon Rith noted yesterday that his 2008 campaign had been poorly funded in comparison to other parties, and said he was prepared to spend up to US$1 million in the lead up to next year’s election.
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, yesterday welcomed Lon Rith’s return.
“It has been a long time for him, if he tries from now on he could attract votes from the grassroots for this commune election,” Koul Panha said.
He noted, however, that current election procedures favour larger parties, and called for a change to the current election formula.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, also welcomed Lon Rith’s return, but said the ruling CPP did not feel threatened by it.
“We are not scared of competing with any party. We encourage other parties to take part in the competition,” he said.