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Kem Ley’s Grassroots Democracy Party looks to future

President of the Grassroots Democracy Party Yeng Virak talks yesterday about the challenges his party faces in the wake of Kem Ley’s death.
President of the Grassroots Democracy Party Yeng Virak talks yesterday about the challenges his party faces in the wake of Kem Ley’s death. Shaun Turton

Kem Ley’s Grassroots Democracy Party looks to future

As his members fan out over the next six months to hold more than 80 congresses in different communes across the country, Grassroots Democracy Party president Yeng Virak will remain acutely aware of his party’s origin and the role of one of its main architects, Kem Ley.

Speaking yesterday at his party’s headquarters, Virak said his party was devastated at the loss of one of its founders, who was murdered on Sunday, though now would work even harder to clinch commune council and chief positions next June.

“It’s a big loss, but at the same time, this makes us even more determined, more strong, in pursuing the journey that he started,” Virak said.

With now more than 2,000 members, 12 commune conferences under its belt and a set of structures and principles – many devised by, or at least in consultation with, Ley – the GDP has moved a long way towards the vision its founders first discussed in coffee shops around Phnom Penh.

It was in the wake of the disputed 2013 election, amid the buzz, debate and hope for change that the group including Ley, Virak and academics Yang Saing Koma, Sam Inn and Meas Ny first decided to take action.

After travelling around the country and talking to villagers for the “Khmer for Khmer” social network movement, which Virak said was about raising “political awareness”, the group decided that forming a political party was the best option.

“We were all enthusiastic . . . especially Kem Ley, he would get the names and numbers of anyone interested, who wanted to learn more, at that time, people were getting politically savvy, they were paying attention,” he said.

Though Ley stepped away from the party as it came to fruition and did not become a member, Virak said the critic still helped with guidance and contributed to its policy development and, as such, the party was poorer for his loss.

Virak said he was not aware of whether Ley planned to directly enter politics as elections drew closer, saying “all that was clear is that he liked to try to influence everybody to do better”.

Ley had also been advising the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, though Virak said there had been no discussion of any potential merger between the groups down the road.

“It is not on our mind as of now; our effort and concentration is on building a political party and helping our members,” he said.

Speaking yesterday, head of election monitor Comfrel Koul Panha said that Cambodia’s seat allocation system significantly favoured bigger parties, making mergers, such as the joining of the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party to create the CNRP, a powerful tool for smaller groups.

Observers have noted the entrance of several smaller parties into the fray in recent months could benefit the ruling Cambodian People’s Party by taking votes from the CNRP.

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