Kem Sokha Announces His Return to Politics

Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha announced Sunday that he will resign from his position in May in order to return to politics.

As of May 1, Kem Sokha will step down from the CCHR presidency to form a new political party to compete in the 2008 national elections, he said.

The former Funcinpec senator said that he has been considering forming a political party “for many years,” and that he is returning to politics by popular demand. “The idea is from the people…. The people want me, need me,” he said.

Kem Sokha said his supporters have expressed frustration about their current political options—parties, he claimed, that are not truly democratic.

“In Cambodia we have many political parties…[and] every party says they’re democratic,” he said. “I want to establish the model of democratic political party” whose leader does not have total control.

Kem Sokha said he could not yet name who will join him in setting up the party, or what it will be called. “Some people, they don’t want me to expose their names yet” because they still have other jobs, he said.

The new party will work to conserve natural resources, help to resolve land disputes and fight poverty, he said.

Kem Sokha said that he submitted a letter to the CCHR board of directors Feb 28 announcing his resignation, and has sent copies to three CCHR donors.

Wolfgang Mollers, country director for Deutscher Entwicklungs­dienst, the German aid agency that provides the CCHR with an expert and a “very minimal” amount of mon­ey, said DED has no plan to withdraw its support for CCHR after Kem Sokha resigns.

Lazar Antonic, resident program officer at the US-based Inter­na­tional Republican Institute, which also funds CCHR, referred questions about funding to IRI officials in Wash­ington, who could not be reached.

Mam Sonando, director of Bee­hive Radio Station who served jail time with Kem Sokha after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown on border activists in 2005, said he supports Kem Sokha’s new party, but will not be a founding mem­ber. “I want to stick to my radio station,” he said.

Heng Samrin, National As­semb­ly and CPP honorary president, said he was not surprised by Kem Sokha’s announcement.

“If there are people that he can convince, let him convince them…. There are only a few people who work with him,” he said.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy declined to comment on Kem Sokha’s political aspirations. With commune elections just weeks away, “my priority now is to win [against] the CPP,” he said.

Mar Sophal, a monitoring co-ordinator with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Kem Sokha will have less influence as a politician. Without seats in the National Assembly, small political parties are “powerless,” he said.

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