The re-election and return after two years of Eng Chhay Eang as secretary general
of the Sam Rainsy Party is creating a rift with party supporters who say a former
gambling addict does not lend the right image to the party leadership.
Officials of two trade unions - the Free Trade Union of Workers of Kingdom of Cambodia
(FTUWKC) and Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) -a said the return
of Eng Chhay Eang will hurt the party's popularity just as it gears up for the July
2008 national elections.
Eang was re-elected at the party congress held on September 8 and 9 at SRP headquarters
in Phnom Penh.
He previously resigned from the position of secretary general in December 2005 saying
he had health issues and a gambling addiction.
Eang responded to critics in a September 13 statement in which he said he would resign
again if his background causes discredit to the party.
"I will work from my heart, my braveness and all my resources that I have for
the party," Eang said.
For the last two years since he resigned Eang has continued as a National Assembly
member from SRP.
Party President Sam Rainsy had no public comment about Eang, other than to say he
was democratically elected. Party members said Eang remains close to the Sam Rainsy
Ong Thong Hoeung, president of the SRP in Belgium and a representative of the SRP
to the European Union , resigned after the party congress. But Mu Sochua, deputy
secretary general of the SRP, said there was no clear explanation as to why he resigned
and denied it was because of Eang.
Following the party congress, Chea Mony, president of the FTUWKC, told the Post that
the people working for the party are an important part of what voters will think
about the party.
"We don't like a person addicted to gambling because this kind of human resource
will bring more corruption to the nation when they get into power to run government,"
He noted several issues that are important including government land grabs, social
security and abuse of garment workers.
"We in civil society are closely watching all the political parties and we support
a good politician who can resolve problems for us," Mony said.
He said if a new democratic party came to the forefront he would encourage the garment
workers to vote for it.
Rong Chhun, President of CITA told the Post on September 17 that although the unions
have no influence they are concerned about a negative impact to the SRP of having
Eang back in a leadership position.
"If the leader is not able to maintain confidence then there will be an impact
to the party," Chhun said.
Mony and Chhun both said the SRP should realize they need more voter support.
The national elections are scheduled for July 26, 2008.
In the national elections in 2003, CPP won 73 seats, Funcinpec won 26 and SRP won
Rainsy said that the SRP now has had 500,000 members nationally.
"Our congress was a model of democracy. Our senior officials got into position
through an election from the village level," Rainsy said.
Rainsy said that all party officials were democratically elected including the 100
member steering committee. No votes were announced because the election was done
by a show of hands.
Khieu Kanharith, spokesman of the CPP, said that the SRP is always proclaiming itself
to be democratic, but its own votes are not announced.
"There were many conflicts inside SRP, but we are not criticizing," Kanharith