Ex-Member of Sam Rainsy Mulling Own Political Party

An expelled member of Sam Rainsy Party’s supreme coun­cil is considering forming his own

po­litical movement to compete with the opposition group in future elect­ions.

Ban Sophal, a former vocal par­ty member, said the party is no longer democratic. He claims its leaders ignored internal bylaws mandating new party leadership elections in 1998.

Party leaders disputed the charge and expelled Ban So­phal and two others in Septem­ber after he refused to drop the is­sue.

“As a party council member, I was entitled to give my ideas when the leaders went in the wrong direction,” Ban Sophal said Thursday. “The party had good policies. But the way they practice them is not good.”

Ban Sophal served on a party committee charged with drawing policy statements and putting in force proposals for consideration by the party congress.

A significant split in the opposition party, if it were to materialize, could complicate efforts to gain ground in future elections, ob­serv­ers say.

It is unclear, however, whether Ban Sophal could muster sup­port from within the party. He claims there are “many real patriots in the party who wait for an opportunity as they realize that SRP is no longer de­voted to the country.”

Al­though he did not quantify, Ban Sophal predicted there will be a major “split” by the 2003 elections.

Party leaders dismissed those predictions, maintaining Ban Sophal has only a handful of supporters—most of whom are motivated by their thirst for power.

“Of course he can create his own party; that is his right,” said Phi Thach, Sam Rainsy Party cabinet chief. “But if he really has thousands of supporters, there should have been a riot inside the party when the steering committee expelled him. Nobody even made a petition in favor of him before or after the decision.”

Ban Sophal said he agreed with many party policies. He de­nied he had been “bought or in­flu­enced” by any other political par­ty. And he said he does not agree with the policies of the CPP or Funcinpec.

But Sam Rainsy’s position as party president and those of the steering committee members were three-year terms set to ex­pire Nov 9, 1998, he claimed, citing party statutes.

Top party leaders say they chose to forgo an election be­cause the current party leadership was put into place as a “transitional” leadership, and that status remains because the party “does not respect the results of the general election of 1998 which was not free and fair.”

“Due to the injustice of the court system in the country, we de­cided to withhold the steering committee rather than elect a new one, and that is not against our party bylaws,” said Yim So­vann, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian.

Added Eng Chhay Eang, the party’s secretary general: “Ban So­phal’s charges are meaningless. He made these allegations be­cause he wishes to get a higher position in the party. We have pas­sed through a lot of difficulties since the establishment of the party in 1995. He had just entered the party and wished to be in a top position. That motive led him to criticize the party.”

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