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Kem Ley to form national party

Political analyst Kem Ley (centre) attends a public forum in Phnom Penh last year.
Political analyst Kem Ley (centre) attends a public forum in Phnom Penh last year. Ley intends to register a new political party in August called the Grassroots Democracy Party. Heng Chivoan

Kem Ley to form national party

Former analyst and researcher Kem Ley will register a new national-level political party with the Ministry of Interior in August to serve as a model of pluralistic “intraparty democracy”, the political aspirant said.

Titled the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP), Ley said the party would be the next phase of his Khmer for Khmer “social network”, which he had previously said would simply be a loose association of independent parties operating at commune, district and provincial levels.

On Monday, however, Ley said that he now envisions a single political party comprising grassroots chapters on the commune level, whose core members, all vetted by Ley, will elect leaders from their communities to compete with the ruling and opposition parties.

While it had been speculated that Ley was contemplating an entry into politics since he announced the formation of Khmer for Khmer last September, he continued to maintain this week that he will not seek to lead the party he plans to create, though he will dictate its internal apparatuses.

“We need to teach them the principles of intraparty democracy, but for me I just design,” said Ley, adding that while he doesn’t expect the GDP to win elections, he hopes the design will influence the internal structures of more prominent parties.

Ley and his partner, Dr Yang Saing Koma, are in the process of launching the first 10 grassroots chapters by August.

The chapters, which will initially be in Phnom Penh’s neighbouring provinces to reduce costs, will be comprised of 10 core members who select leaders to represent the chapter at both the local and national levels.

“It’s a bottom-up approach – the people in the committee in one commune join with other communes to select their leaders,” said Saing Koma, adding that both the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were led by powerful central committees with little regard for local-level opinions.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovan disputed Saing Koma and Ley’s assessment, saying that party reps at the village level frequently did vote on national-level issues, and adding that he “didn’t care” about Ley’s plans.

“I know that the people are very smart and understand the situation, and do not want to wait another 10 or 20 years to reform the country, and they trust the CNRP only,” he said, adding that the time and expenses needed to launch a new party would likely be prohibitive for the GDP.

CPP spokesman Sous Yara, however, welcomed the news, adding that his party always looked forward to new competition.

That competition, analysts have said, has contributed to a long-running strategy of maintaining power by sowing division within the opposition.

Although CNRP vice president Kem Sokha singled out Ley alongside outsider forces Mam Sonando and Khim Veasna as threats to the opposition’s unity in a speech last month, independent political analyst Chea Vannath was sceptical that the GDP could make an impact.

While Sonando’s Beehive Social Democratic Party and Veasna’s League for Democracy Party already have vocal supporters, Vannath noted that the GDP lacks a similarly popular leader.

“[Sonando and Veasna] are much more vibrant, they attract much more support,” she said, adding that history hasn’t been kind even to those parties.

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