The newly formed Hang Dara Movement Democracy Party held its first party congress
in Phnom Penh on September 22, and members heard from its newly selected president
that it would win 20 seats in next year's parliamentary election.
Hang Dara also claimed that 200,000 former Funcinpec voters would leave the royalist
party before the 2003 poll, saying it had failed its supporters.
"Funcinpec betrayed us ... therefore, we have walked out from the party,"
said Dara. "We worked for Funcinpec for more than 20 years to bring it to power
without money to support us. Now we have to work for our new party since we have
seen that Funcinpec actually serves the interests of [the ruling] CPP."
Dara remains a controversial figure: he claims to have worked for Funcinpec during
the 1980s recruiting members for the resistance movement fighting Vietnamese forces
along the Thai border. Funcinpec officials have denied that he was ever a member
of the party.
More than 1,000 participants at the congress heard Dara repeat his assertion that
he had worked for the royalists in the past but he said the party had now changed.
"Funcinpec was originally against illegal immigration, corruption, and dictatorship,"
he said. "It also aimed to reduce poverty, but [Funcinpec party leader] Prince
Norodom Ranariddh no longer has the political will to carry out such a program."
Dara also accused Funcinpec of nepotism and corruption, saying it was issues like
these that would enable his party to do well in the 2003 elections, provided the
poll was free and fair.
He appealed to the international community to ensure the elections were free from
intimidation, saying it was especially important that the National Election Committee
(NEC) was neutral.
A number of opposition parties have expressed disquiet about the make-up of the NEC,
whose supposedly unbiased members are to be selected by the Ministry of the Interior.
Some delegates at the congress seemed unsure about voting for Hang Dara's party.
Pong Rithy, 49, a civil servant and former CPP voter said he had taken part in the
meeting to see if the party would be a good choice in 2003. He remains undecided.
"I don't know who I will vote for because I am still looking for leadership
that can bring real democracy and justice for society," said Rithy.
Others such as Kruy Tuy, a 65-year-old former Funcinpec supporter from Kandal province,
were more clear about their affiliation.
"I voted for Funcinpec before because Dara said that only the royalist party
could protect national sovereignty," said Tuy. "But now he has split from
Funcinpec, so I'll continue to follow him."
And a former Funcinpec resistance fighter, 58-year-old Prak Sovann, said he was disillusioned
and had quit his original party.
"I don't like Funcinpec now because of the party's corruption and nepotism,"
he said. "Since they got into power, they don't take care of us."
He predicted that many former comrades would also abandon Funcinpec.
"I don't know who they will vote for, but it won't be Funcinpec anymore,"