Khmer American Daran Kravanh, leader of the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP), wears a garland of flowers at his party’s first congress, March 29 at the Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh.
Preparations for the July 27 national election are in full swing, with parties big and small gearing up to hit the campaign trail for a month starting June 26.
In all, 57 parties have announced they will run for a place in government, with 45 parties already registered with the Minister of Interior, Tep Nitha, secretary general of the National Election Committee (NEC) told the Post on April 10.
Among the hopefuls is the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP), lead by American-Khmer Daran Kravanh, who will run against the likes of Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy for the post of prime minister.
“Our party will bring the governance system from the USA to [Cambodia],” Kravanh, the founder and president of the KAAP, said at the party’s first congress on March 29.
As the party’s name suggests, the KAAP’s platform focuses on reducing poverty, arguing that rising inequality is a threat to social stability.
Daran is critical of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and particularly so Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal power.
He claims the CPP have only remained in power so long because they have money, and says he will provide “real results” through programs such as his pension scheme, which, he says, will ensure no elderly Cambodian will ever go hungry again.
Hun Sen on April 9 lashed out at the fledgling party while attending the inauguration of a school in Pearaing district, Prey Veng province. He mocked political parties that faded away immediately after elections and ridiculed KAPP’s proposal to introduce pensions in Cambodia.
“It is not possible,” he said. “If you do not work, you will not just get given American money.”
Kravanh claims to have more than 300 American advisers and governors who support his party, although he has not elaborated on the nature of this support.
Kravanh has also lashed out at the NEC, alleging the body is not capable of ensuring free and fair elections.
Tep Nitha said he declined to respond directly to the criticism, saying he didn’t even know who Kravanh was.
“The NEC just gets on with its work. It is up to an individual if they want to criticize us,” he said.
Despite his criticism of the CPP and key Cambodian institutions, Kravanh maintains that he would be happy to join a coalition with Hun Sen after the July elections.
“Hun Sen is a leader and he has spent a long time trying to help us,” he said.
The KAPP has already managed to attract some support in the run-up to the election. Party member Chuon Vanna, 25, from Kampong Speu province, said she joined the movement because she was impressed by Kravanh.
“When I’ve been with him on missions to the provinces I have seen him cry he is so moved by the poor people,” she said.
Seng Yet, a disgruntled former Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party member, said he recently joined the KAPP because he liked their policies.
They will help more Cambodians to become rich, he said.