Interior Minister Sar Kheng has given a green light to self-exiled dissident and Khmer People Power Movement leader Sourn Serey Ratha to form a political party.
Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed that Kheng signed a letter yesterday morning that would be sent to Serey Ratha to inform him his application to start a party had been approved and requesting that he complete the registration process.
“With the registration form, they have to collect at least 4,000 signatures of members in order to register [the party name],” he said.
The party will be called the Khmer Power Party. In December, Serey Ratha applied to register his group as the Khmer People Power Party but was forced to change the name and re-apply after the Interior Ministry said it was too similar to another group that had previously registered.
In January, Serey Ratha was sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court under charges of treason, obstructing electoral procedures and inciting to overthrow the government.
He was charged in connection to a Facebook post prior to the 2013 election that allegedly called on the Cambodian armed forces to turn their weapons against Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Three others, including two KPPM members, were also handed sentenced of six years in prison for treason and obstructing electoral procedures for reportedly distributing T-shirts before the poll bearing slogans calling on citizens not to vote.
Hun Sen has publicly accused the KPPM of training armed forces in Thailand to overthrow his government.
But despite the ruling party’s views on Serey Ratha and his outstanding conviction, Sopheak said that there was no legal basis to stop him starting a party.
“If he is convicted already no law opposes him to open [a] political party,” he said.
In an email yesterday, Serey Ratha said he would “soon return” to Cambodia despite facing a lengthy jail term.
He added that gathering the signatures of 4,000 party members would be an easy task for KPPM, which he claimed was “committed to register to be a legal political party in Cambodia, in order to run its political activities openly
in the country”.
“So I will response [sic] soon to the MoI in order to fill up [the final] legal step before Khmer New Year,” he said.
A political platform released last year by the KPPM included cancelling all logging licences and for all landless families to be awarded land from the state.