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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The road ahead for the Sam Rainsy Party

The road ahead for the Sam Rainsy Party

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Ung Bun Ang . . . 'We are prepared to work with anyone from any party as long you share our belief in democracy and human rights.'

U
ng Bun Ang, the Australian-educated accountant who returned to his native Cambodia

to become spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, tells Liam Cochrane about the road

ahead for the SRP.

Phnom Penh Post: SRP has 24 seats in the National Assembly and no positions in

the parliamentary commissions, what influence will the party be able to have in the

next four years?

In terms of influence on this government, probably minimal. But having said that,

we have four years to get ourselves prepared for the next one, the next fight, the

next election.

What will that preparation be?

At the moment, admittedly, we have a shortage of human resources. We have some good

people, some capable leaders but given the problems that Cambodia's having we have

to build up the quality of these human resources basically from scratch. By giving

education, by training, by encouraging our people to learn English, to go back to

school, to go to a seminar, a workshop - study everything. Because winning an election

is one [thing], but to manage the country properly that's another. Our focus for

the next four years will be training, training,, training to get our capabilities

up to scratch.

At all levels?

Probably at the medium and top, but that doesn't mean that we ignore the lower ones,

because the lower ones are the ones who get us votes.

Sam Rainsy has a lot of charisma and popular support as a leader, but some say

he and his inner circle have too much control. Will there be any changes to the structure

of the party?

Well I'm afraid I have to say that criticism is true to a very limited extent. In

the SRP Sam Rainsy is the president, he's got a say. But it's not a bad thing, in

the sense that we are facing a very bad situation. We are living with a regime where

they're prepared to shoot you, to kill you. So we need a very strong leader on the

top. One who can stand up to this kind of intimidation, this kind of threat. So yes,

Sam Rainsy has a lot of influence in the party but in terms of decision making we

always discuss, we always argue and we always share information before taking a decision.

The strength of a party is tested when there's no president. So the question we can

ask ourselves, what happens to the SRP if, God forbid, Sam Rainsy is taken away tomorrow?

To us, if the party fails after that then it means the party is not that strong.

That comes back to the point I was saying [about] building up the resources so that

when one or two leaders [are] moving out or they move out then the party's still

going forward. This is our target. We have to make sure the party is strong enough

to withstand the sudden loss of the leader.

Will it be called the Sam Rainsy Party forever?

No. In fact when we were with the Alliance of Democrats we were ready to change our

name already because we wanted to form a single party. But to cut a long story short,

if we are in power or in a position where we can be sure that the other party will

not use this cheap trick to have a similar name or the same breakaway to create confusion,

we will change our name back to Khmer Nation Party or another name.

Is the Alliance of Democrats between Funcinpec and SRP dead?

It's dead in the sense that if you're talking about two parties coming together,

it's dead. But ideally it's not dead because we believe in democracy, we believe

in the democrats. We believe that there are democrats in all the parties, in Funcinpec

and the CPP. So now, we are regarding this Alliance of Democrats as an ideal. It

means that we are prepared to work with anyone from any party as long you share our

belief in democracy and human rights.

So the Alliance of Democrats is no longer a coalition but an invitation?

Yes, that's correct.

How is Funcinpec regarded by the leaders of SRP?

Just like any party, there's good people, there's bad people, there's a naughty one,

there's a sad one, there's an honest one, there's this and that one. I'm not saying

that all of 100 per cent in the SRP are clean, straight, whatever. It's true there's

always some crook ones anywhere. But the issue is how many crooks, how many good

ones? Ideally speaking we know who we can work very well with; we know who we cannot

work with.

Mu Sochua has been mentioned as someone you might be able to work well with, are

there any others waiting in the wings?

There's a number. But I'm sorry, I can't elaborate on those points at this stage.

Let them, sort of, come out by themselves.

By keeping at least the ideal of the Alliance of Democrats open, are you trying

to make it easier for Funcinpec supporters at the grassroots level to move to your

side?

That's right. Because we know there's a lot of unhappiness and a lot of desire to

come to us but as I said we're not going to push it. Now it's clear-cut. The people

of Cambodia, the voters, can decide whether they want the one that respects the rule

of law or the one that violates the constitution, bulldozed the constitution; whether

you want to vote for the corrupted type of government or you want to vote for hope.

There's no fuzzy pictures any more. That's why I can tell you that we are glad the

Alliance broke because Ranariddh went into a coalition with, into bed with, CPP.

So the outcome for us is good.

The CPP gains a lot of support in the provinces using state money to build roads

and schools and promoting them as achievements of the party. How will SRP compete

for votes without access to that sort of money?

I see that position as an advantage. We are in opposition, we are not in government

so we're not supposed to build roads or schools.

I'm not sure if everyone at the grassroots level understands that distinction.

True, true. This is what makes our struggle for the next four years exciting in the

sense that somehow we need to sow this ideal of democracy, of better lifestyle, of

getting rid of poverty, to the people. We cannot compete with the CPP or Funcinpec

in terms of money because those are commodities we don't have, so we have to compete

with them in a different battlefield. Let's have a look at the situation in the Vietnam

War for instance. The Americans, they had all the manpower and all the gun power

but the Viet Cong, what did they have? Shoes made out of tires or bare feet. But

they won. The Americans packed up and went back home.

That's an interesting comparison.

Hang on, we're talking about a group of people who were fighting for ideals and a

group of people who had the money. Now have a look at Iraq: you think that America

won the war there? Come on, think about it. We cannot compete with the CPP and Funcinpec

in terms of offering money to buy votes - we will never beat them. So why would you

play a game you know you're going to lose? We don't have guns to threaten anybody,

we don't have money to buy anybody, we don't have positions to entice anyone to come

with us, all we have is heart and a bit of brain, hopefully a better brain. We're

not 100 per cent sure that we'll beat them but if we go by money or positions, we

definitely lose.

What's the membership of the SRP?

The last count, probably 400,000.

What would be an election-winning membership?

I cannot give you that number yet because we're still working on it. We're at the

moment preparing our long-term planning for 2008 but we haven't come to the nitty-gritty

yet.

Who's involved in the planning and when will it be finished?

The planning involves from the top to the bottom. We decided last week that the secretary-general

is going to ask all the heads of the provincial groups to come up with a plan which

tells how many people they are going to aim for, how they are going to do it and

then what the evaluation process [will be] year by year.

What international assistance will you have in this planning?

A lot of people say that they cannot fund us directly because of the rules [about

funding] political parties and so on and our law also prohibits foreigners from giving

us any money direct, right. But that's okay, because a lot of organizations are very

concerned about democracy and the human rights situation. All we want is if they

just come in and teach the people about democracy and human rights. We're happy.

It's just incredible. The international community has been spending money on Cambodia

[amounting to] $10 billion for the past ten years. But instead of having a reduction

in poverty, we've got a bigger gap between the rich and the poor. Instead of having

a big increase in secondary school enrolments we have a fall in enrolments: ten years

ago, there were about 34 percent enrolled in secondary school, now it's only about

20 percent. While Vietnam and Laos are all going up, we are going southwards. Sometimes

we just don't understand why the generous donor countries are so blind, so tolerant

of this mismanagement of the whole country.

We don't want to have a handout mentality. We don't like the idea of the government

every year begging the international community for money to balance the budget and

to create our development. In a way the government has relinquished its responsibility

by leaving roads and building schools to foreign handouts. That's disgraceful. We

appreciate the Thai attitude: now they say "I don't need your money anymore!"

We are looking forward to the time when we can say "Okay, thank you very much,

we don't need your money."

How long might that take under an SRP government?

Given the dire economic situation, it wouldn't be less than 20 years.

What did you learn about voters in the last election?

In the election we found out that in a family the grandparents will vote for the

Funcinpec party because they perceive it to be closely associated with the King and

monarchy and so on. The parents would vote for the CPP because they feel they owe

gratitude to the CPP for liberating them from the Khmer Rouge. That's fair enough.

But the young ones will vote for the SRP; we know that. These are the people who

now finish school and ask: Where do I get a job? And this is where the government

fails terribly.

It sounds like you're on the campaign trail already.

Of course we are!

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