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Analysts expect troubles ahead for GDP due to leader departure

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Yong Saing Koma (centre right) and GDP president Yeng Virak (centre left) speaking to media in Phnom Penh on July 26. Hong Menea

Analysts expect troubles ahead for GDP due to leader departure

The departure of two senior officials from the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), Yang Saing Koma and Lek Sothear, who recently joined the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), could cause problems for GDP and seriously hamstring its political activities in the run-up to next year’s general election, according to some analysts and observers.

Saing Koma, former chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear, former deputy secretary-general and spokesman of the party, joined the CPP in late November. Saing Koma is currently holding the position of secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. He was also appointed as Minister attached to the Prime Minister on top of his post, while Sothear serves as under-secretary at the same ministry.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia whose expertise is in political science, said the absence of Saing Koma would lessen the popularity of the GDP, as it had gained some of its popularity directly through the duo.

“The absence of Saing Koma and Sothear, who were core members, will cool the GDP’s prospects and in my opinion this party should comply with the laws and regulations that its political party has registered with the Ministry of Interior and hold a congress to elect new leaders in order to prepare for the elections next year if its members are still willing to continue.

“If there is no longer any enthusiasm for continuing with the party, it will disappoint some of its most devoted supporters. So, even when it lost some of its most core members, they must be able to keep the party running normally,” he said.

Peou advised the GDP to keep its party policies intact and convene a congress to elect new leaders to sustain

the party and determine the will of the party. The congress could also help to mobilize GDP’s supporters in order to get them focused on continuing forward with the party’s political legacy as a part of Cambodia’s political battles.

Cambodia Reform Party (CRP) co-founder Ou Chanrath said that the departure of Saing Koma and Sothear reminds him of what took place with the Cambodian Nation Love Party (CNLP).

He said it will be difficult to move forward and make progress with the party, especially if they suffer a decline in popularity, which they might because the popularity of the GDP’s other leaders does not seem to be nearly as high as the pair who left, according to Chanrath’s estimation.

“When the main party leaders leave and take refuge with another party, it is inevitable that some of its supporters who tended to support Saing Koma may resign or stop being active. It is inevitable that they will be disappointed and some will leave the party, which will of course affect the progress of the party,” said Chanrath.

Chanrath advised the GDP to unite with other opposition parties whose values aligned with their party in order to strengthen the party’s position in the face of this uncertainty. He said that the GDP should not try to stand alone as they deal with this situation because they are not alone in holding the values they believe in.

Ro Vannak, a professor of political science, pointed out that the GDP’s politics were normally of the “black and white” variety where one side is painted as all good and the other all bad, but this move by their senior members reveals that much of what happens in politics turns out to be gray after all and that would do more damage to their party than the loss of any two members.

“In the last 10 years of political evolution here, I have observed the evolution of bipartisan politics, especially pertinent are the results of the 2013 and the upcoming 2023 elections where it is likely that we’ll see only two parties represented in the National Assembly.

“Following that trend, the GDP, which aspires to be its own political pole and desires to be labelled as a party created by intellectuals, have failed from the beginning due to their premature attempt to participate in the 2018 election before they had the required financial resources. That is exactly the opposite of what the masses truly want,” he said.

Meach Sovannara, a former senior official of the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), anticipates that the fate of the GDP will be a gradual weakening of its influence in Cambodian politics as the absence of one of key co-founders will lead to a loss of confidence from some of its biggest supporters.


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