Ex-NGO Director Seeks Presidency of New Party

Yeng Virak, a career human rights activist who recently resigned as head of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), will run for president of the newly formed Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) in an election on Sunday, one of the party’s founders said Friday.

Mr. Virak worked with Kem Ley, a political analyst and social researcher, and Yang Saing Ko­ma, president of agriculture organization CEDAC, to form the “Khmer for Khmer” social advocacy group late last year. 

With the aim of empowering commune-based “micro-parties,” the group registered the GDP as a political party in what it claims is an effort to offer an alternative to the top-down operations of the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP.

The party’s inaugural congress will be held Sunday, with a leadership election that will see Mr. Virak compete against candidates from “model communes” born out of the political advocacy efforts, according to Mr. Saing Koma.

“In fact, we cannot say who is the president yet, but our working group suggested that [Mr. Virak] stand as a presidential candidate,” he said.

“So he’s one among two or three candidates, but we don’t know the result,” he said, adding that the party’s president would need support from at least 50 percent of about 100 party members at this weekend’s congress.

Mr. Virak could not be reached.

Huon Chundy, the acting director of CLEC, said Mr. Virak had completely cut ties with the group in order to ensure it remains politically neutral.

“It’s his personal plan, it’s not involved with CLEC,” said Mr. Chundy, who declined to comment on Mr. Virak’s abilities as a politician for fear that he might be seen as offering political support to the GDP.

Earlier this week, Mr. Ley, the political analyst, said that he and Mr. Saing Koma would not attend Sunday’s congress, leaving it up to representatives of the model communes to decide on the party’s leadership and policy platform.

“Yang Saing Koma and I have designed this, but we move away from it,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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