Anti-Poverty Party Makes Ambitious Debut

Daran Kravanh’s campaign for prime minister may be a long shot, and since he has lived in the US for the last 20 years, it’s long distance too.

A 50-year-old social worker in the US, Daran Kravanh spends 20 to 30 hours a week on the phone to Cambodia from his home of Tacoma, Washington, to coordinate his campaign, he wrote in an e-mail this week.

With close friends in Cambodia and four visits since 1997, his homeland is always on his mind, he wrote.

“Observing the living conditions of my beloved people and hearing their voices crying out for a new leader were all I needed to decide [to run],” he said.

So in October, his Khmer Anti-Poverty Party officially joined the more than 40 other political parties in Cambodia, the overwhelming majority of which are relatively small organizations with no seats on any commune councils, let alone within Cambodia’s Nat­ional Assembly.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections, said Daran Kravanh’s chances of becoming prime minister are slim.

“That’s very ambitious,” he said. “That may be the long term goal.”

Even so, Daran Kravanh is undaunted, and more than a little confident that 2008 will be his year.

“I believe I will win this year. Cambodia cannot wait five years for change,” he said.

And the party’s secretary-general, Sar Sovannarith, claimed last week that, despite only existing for a handful of months, the party already has 500,000 members.

He added that KAPP will hold its first party congress in April.

A civil servant with the Depart­ment of Social and Health Ser­vices for the US state of Wash­ington, Daran Kravanh fled Cam­bodia for Thailand in 1984 before going to the US in 1988, according to campaign literature. He has never held political office.

Daran Kravanh said that at first his plans of taking Prime Minster Hun Sen’s job seemed “nearly im­possible.” But Cambodia is heading towards crisis, he said.

Forests are being destroyed, land is being grabbed, natural resources are being given away, and corruption is ruining the public’s faith in the government, he said.

“I am sorry, but when Cam­bodia has the kind of natural resources it has, and Cambodian people still go hungry and do not have clean water to drink, someone is not doing a good job,” he wrote.

Mu Sochua, SRP deputy secretary-general, said the SRP was not concerned with fledgling parties siphoning votes.

“Every five years these parties come out of nowhere,” she said. “They close shop the day after the election.”

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kan­harith said he saw nothing new in KAPP’s platform. Voters will look past rhetoric and think about the strength and actions of parties, Khieu Kanharith said.

“They look at the core, not at the external decoy,” he wrote in a re­cent e-mail.

      (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)

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