After almost a year of preparation, political analyst Kem Ley’s Khmer for Khmer social network completed its evolution into a political party yesterday when the Ministry of Interior signed off on its registration. With about 100 core members, the team behind the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) speaks loftily of a mission to create a model of pluralistic intraparty democracy in a country consistently ranked one of the world’s least democratic. Bennett Murray spoke to GDP general secretary Sam Inn this week on the party’s goals, its potential impact on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and continued suspicions that Kem Ley, who maintains that he only intends to advise the party, plans to use it to launch a political career
Why has the GDP leadership become disillusioned with the CNRP?
I would like explain in the terms of a football team. On a football team, everyone has at least one position to play. You have a striker, you have midfield players, and you have defensive players. But on a bad team, everyone wants to be the goal maker. The way the CNRP plays, everyone wants to play the goal maker to gain popularity. This is not a strong team.
What specific problems in Cambodian political culture do you aim to address?
One thing is the leadership approach. The CNRP more or less still uses a top down approach. Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are the ones who make the decisions, and not very much through the process of consultation. The CNRP also uses the approach of cursing, blaming and painting colour on others. And the CPP likes the approach of killing and threatening. Killing is luckily not frequently used right now, but more common is the use of threats and suppression through the court system. The third difference with GDP is that the way the CPP and CNRP make politics is more or less just to create more supporters. We don’t think that this is the right way if you want to develop your country. You can’t produce only supporters. You have to produce more leaders.
Could you explain the specific positions held by the GDP?
We have discussed some ideas about that, but have not yet produced a detailed party platform. Later on, we will work with the experts to produce what we call sectoral national policy. But I can share some concepts that we have discussed a little bit. For the border, our concept and principle is clear. You cannot deal with the border with either Vietnam or Thailand with hatred. The way the CNRP has done, they have used the border to gain popularity by creating more hatred. You need to have a good team to properly study that issue, about the history and the mapping… and to study international law. For example, I have studied how Malaysia deals with the Chinese people there, and it’s given us a lot of ideas how to deal with immigration here. But we would like later on to organise a consultative workshop with other stakeholders, like representatives from the EU, UN, embassies and international organisations to get their input on the issues.
How does the GDP view the “culture of dialogue” between Rainsy and Hun Sen?
A culture of dialogue is good and should be part of the democratic system and process. But there should be a culture of dialogue with integrity, honesty and mutual trust. And neither leader has these things. The culture of dialogue is not new to Hun Sen – he has played it with Ranariddh and other political leaders before. He is a chess player, and he knows how to play. But Sam Rainsy is quite new. He’s a beginner playing with a skilful player. I can understand him, he has no other way to go forward. But I don’t think he can win at that game.
How do you respond to suspicions that the GDP is really the party of Kem Ley?
I can understand that, because Kem Ley is good at public speaking and has talked a lot to the media, so people know him a lot. But the way we work, we work together. Kem Ley has announced publicly that he would like to stay as a researcher, and help push the democratic process as a researcher, and as someone who would like to talk with the media and provide advice and recommendations. Let him play from that position.
How do you respond to accusations that small parties like the GDP are fracturing the opposition?
In leadership, when there is something wrong, as a good leader you ask yourself what is my weakness? Why are people not supporting me anymore? Not try to accuse other people. This is good leadership. And both Sokha and Rainsy like to paint with the colours of politics. Ask Kem Sokha: when he created the Human Rights Party, Rainsy said the same to him. But right now, he does the same thing to others. It is an issue of integrity and good leadership.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.