Ung Bun Ang . . . 'We are prepared to work with anyone from any party as long you share our belief in democracy and human rights.'
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
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
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
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
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
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
It sounds like you're on the campaign trail already.
Of course we are!