Grassroots Party Hopes to Play Kingmaker in National Assembly

Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) secretary-general Sam Inn said Wednesday the new party is aiming to win enough National Assembly seats in the 2018 election to play kingmaker in a scenario in which neither the ruling CPP nor opposition CNRP win enough seats to form government.

Mr. Inn, who led the NGO Life With Dignity before the GDP was created last month, said that his party envisioned a situation in which neither of the major parties wins the 62-seat parliamentary majority required to form government or pass legislation.

“Our hope is to break the two parties’ hold on having a 50 percent majority. When they get that, they can do anything they want. If we win 10 or 15 seats, we won’t let either of the major parties take 50 percent and they will have to negotiate,” he said.

“Or the CPP and CNRP could discuss forming a government together, and we could consider being the opposition. That is also an option. But our goal is to break the ability of either party to do whatever they want in the National Assembly.”

Ou Virak, a political consultant and founder of the Future Forum think tank, said he believed that the likelihood of the GDP becoming a kingmaker at the next election was slim.

“It will be very significant for them if they win any seats in the parliament. Given the nature of the election system and of seat allocation—and that in people’s minds there are only two parties, so that a vote for any other party is a throw-away vote—it will be a big challenge,” he said.

Mr. Inn said that for now, the GDP was focusing on the 2017 commune elections. The party on Sunday held a meeting to pass a $46,000 budget for the remainder of the year, and to pass a code of conduct for its members to follow while campaigning.

“We would like to win in at least 100 communes…and we will get the lessons from those communes, strengthen and then expand,” Mr. Inn said.

The GDP was created by political commentator Kem Ley’s Khmer for Khmer advocacy group and is led by a number of former civil society leaders close to Mr. Ley, including the party’s president Yeng Virak, the prominent former director of the Community Legal Education Center.

Mr. Ley, who holds no formal role in the GDP, said that his Khmer for Khmer group would continue with its original objective of promoting democracy inside the major parties, even as the GDP competes against them.

“We will hold training sessions with the parties about intra-party democracy—even with the CPP if they allow us. We have contacted some CNRP assistants and advisers to do institutional assessments and development,” Mr. Ley said.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that he was unaware of any offers of education from Mr. Ley, whose group the opposition has often accused of trying to steal its support base.

“We have to see what he is doing,” he said. “I have not seen any invitation nor any program, so I cannot comment.”

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