Confident that a reputation for liberating the country from the Khmer Rouge will gain him votes, former Prime Minister Pen Sovann says his upstart party will field as many as 36 candidates in 18 provinces in next year’s general elections.
“People still support me because they remember my past,” Pen Sovann said Monday at a cousin’s house in Phnom Penh. “I gathered the armed forces to topple the Khmer Rouge, and when I was in power there was no corruption. The military commanders still support me.”
Two high-ranking military officials said Wednesday they still respect Pen Sovann because he was an “old boss” of the Cambodian military at a time when it needed strong leaders.
“But we do not get to choose supporting Pen Sovann or [Prime Minister] Hun Sen,” one said.
Pen Sovann’s Cambodia National Sustaining Party won only about 70,000 votes and no parliamentary seats in the 1998 election. His party, formed in 1997, soon closed its Phnom Penh office.
The party sat out the 2002 commune elections after Pen Sovann’s political allies in the CPP told him it wasn’t worth the while, he said. “The chiefs said there was no need to run because it‘s already arranged.”
But after a year spent in the US writing his biography and gathering support for his party, Pen Sovann plans to open a new Phnom Penh office and convene a party congress in about a month.
Pen Sovann was trained to fight in Vietnam and came to power in Cambodia in 1979 with assistance from Vietnamese armed forces. Authorities later threw him in prison.
The 66-year-old blames Hun Sen, who at the time of his imprisonment was foreign minister for the then-People’s Republic of Kampuchea government, for his imprisonment. He says the current government remains essentially Communist and continues to appease the Vietnamese.
“[The CPP]’s internal system is Communist, but when they speak to the outside world it’s about democracy.”
Pen Sovann’s book, “Pen Sovann and the Fundamental Reason of Cambodia’s History,“ is available in Khmer language in the US, France, Australia and Canada. An English-language version will be available in the West in December, he said. The book is available by order in Cambodia but will likely never make it to the local markets, he said.
The book includes Pen Sovann‘s experiences with Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok. He was a secretary and bodyguard for Ta Mok in the 1950s and fought with Pol Pot and Ieng Sary to overthrow the Lon Nol government before fleeing to Vietnam in 1974.
“He was intelligent and didn’t speak much,“ Pen Sovann recalled about Pol Pot on Monday. “On the outside he seemed very gentle, but inside his heart he just wanted to investigate and follow people to see if they were enemies. He was an unfaithful man.”