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New parties optimistic on poll

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Grassroots Democratic Party supporters gather for a party meeting in Phnom Penh in 2015. Pha Lina

New parties optimistic on poll

DESPITE several minor parties being new to the Kingdom’s political landscape, they have expressed confidence of winning National Assembly seats when contesting in the July 29 elections.

In separate interviews over the weekend, leaders from the minor parties claimed that despite their lack of resources, leveraging on the “mistakes or shortcomings” of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) leader and Prime Minister Hun Sen would give them opportunities to effect positive changes.

Speaking from its headquarters, Khmer Will Party (KWP) Deputy Secretary-General Phal Sithon, said it had the “soul” of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party as over 60 percent of its candidates either held leadership positions or were activists in what was previously the largest opposition party.

“The KWP is not a party that exists just to accompany the ruling one. We formed the party without orders from CPP, the government or any other who is in power right now,” he said.

Sithon said that despite having few resources, he remains optimistic about the outcome of the election based on the people’s hunger for change.

“The first strength of KWP is that it is a new party. Secondly, we see the social context of eight million people who want change and to replace the old leadership,” he said.

The “mistake” of the ruling party, Sithon said, was that it controlled all the natural resources and national territories, and that this presented an opportunity for new political parties that have a genuine willingness to tackle issues affecting the poor to gain the people’s trust during the campaign period.

Like the KWP, the Cambodian Youth Party (CYP), which will field candidates in 17 out of 25 provinces, is also stretching its modest resources.

Its president, Pich Sros, told The Post that he expects to win several seats in the National Assembly. He was eager to criticise the country’s immigration laws and had put forward a new policy on removing illegal immigrants. Early this month, his radical position was rebuked by Hun Sen.

“We have hope that people want new blood . . . we hope to gain some seats, but how many we win will be determined by the people,” he said.

Sros criticised the CPP for what he considered “negligence” in granting land to private companies, depleting national resources and allowing illegal immigrants to settle in the country.

“Let’s not let the ruling party get an easy ride. Even though there is no CNRP to take part in the elections, we can still rescue our nation. We still have people who can work for the party and country.”

Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) Secretary-General Sam Inn also expressed confidence in his party’s prospects.

The long-time civil society leader said: “We are competing with the ruling party. We aim to replace the ruling party and govern Cambodia. Of course, we are not competing with money or force. We compete with our ideology, policies and the strength of our leaders.”

Inn said according to statistics, Cambodia has 8.3 million registered voters. During the commune elections last year, the CPP received about 3.5 million votes, “therefore, if you want change, four to five million people have to go to the polls”.

Paul Chambers, a professor at Naresuan University in Thailand, said with the CNRP dissolved, the CPP is helped in the election because of incumbency, name recognition, the most funding relative to other parties, indirect influence over the election laws, and backing from the judiciary.

“Post-2018 Cambodia looks increasingly like Mexico in the 1920s to the 1980s, when the dominant party there, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), maintained a masquerade of legislative democracy. The PRI even established false opposition parties to build the fiction of competitive politics during that time,” he told The Post.

CPP spokesman Suos Yara welcomed any challenge to his ruling party in the forthcoming election. “It is a free competition in line with Cambodian laws. We are a liberal multi-party democracy. Their participation is an expression of our freedom to elect our leaders and government,” he said.

However, former CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said: “This is an election that would bring positive change for our nation, and the CNRP could have given hope for that change. It is time for change, not for a prolonged dictatorship. This election is not about winning a few seats, but about real change. The people have the right to make their own choice on Election Day,” she said. “They have the right to not legitimise a sham election”.

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