CPP Lays Out Plan to Woo Cambodians Overseas

In a recent letter to its overseas party branches, the ruling CPP lays out a plan to counter the bad press it gets abroad and beef up its support among the Cambodian diaspora, currently a key source of funds for the opposition.

The plan includes recruiting more members to its overseas branches and putting Hun Manet, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, in charge of a new push to build up the party’s support among overseas youth.

Following the prime minister’s recommendations, the letter dated Thursday says, the CPP “decides to form four working groups to oversee the organization of overseas Cambodian People’s Party youth in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada,” and puts Mr. Manet at the helm.

The letter also urges the party’s existing overseas branches to recruit more members and do a better job of communicating with CPP headquarters in Phnom Penh, and puts the party’s central committee in charge of appointing the top officers in each branch.

“The party’s policy is to grow the bamboo shoots,” CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said of the youth initiative. “The ones who have ability can work for the government or for the party.”

“Other countries already have CPP branches,” he said, and the letter “is to remind them to be even stronger.”

Mr. Ey San said part of the goal was to burnish the party’s image among the Cambodian diaspora, among which the opposition CNRP already enjoys a significant foothold.

“It is important to react when there is negative propaganda, not only from the CNRP, but also from other parties that say things that are not true. So the overseas party branches have a duty to tell the truth and make the people understand,” he said.

As for putting Mr. Manet in charge of the youth initiative program, Mr. Ey San said it was mere happenstance.

“It was not just because he is Samdech’s [Mr. Hun Sen’s] son; someone else could have been selected,” he said. “But by chance, he was selected. He is qualified because he had studied for many years in the USA.”

Mr. Manet, who holds several high-level positions within the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1999.

Political analyst Sok Touch said Monday that the 2013 national election, in which the CPP officially held on to power but suffered its worst drubbing—by the CNRP—in 20 years, taught the ruling party that the Cambodian diaspora could not be ignored.

Though Cambodians living abroad cannot vote in the elections, they proved a key source of campaign financing for the opposition, which stumped hard for their dollars.

“The CPP hasn’t done this, and that has allowed other parties to find financing overseas, because politics takes money,” Mr. Touch said.

CNRP lawmaker and public affairs director Mu Sochua said she was not concerned that the CPP’s plans might erode the opposition’s support among the diaspora, which footed roughly a third of the party’s campaign costs in 2013.

“We have been doing it for years,” she said. “We are confident our network [abroad] is very strong.”

Ms. Sochua said online news about events inside Cambodia would also render moot the CPP’s plans to counter the bad press it gets abroad.

“With social media, the world is open; you cannot hide the abuses,” she said. “You cannot hide the lack of freedom and liberty the youth here are facing…so I don’t think there is much Mr. Manet can sell to them.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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