Thousands of opposition politicians and supporters gathered yesterday for the inaugural congress of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), laying out the party’s platform for the upcoming national elections and confirming a roster that included a number of high-profile political personalities.
Speaking at the congress, which was held on a barren field surrounded by garment factories on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, CNRP vice president Khem Sokha said that under the ruling CPP, Cambodia has seen its resources squandered by a wealthy few and promised to take back land from rich business interests if the CNRP wins July’s ballot.
“Under the CPP ruling party, Cambodia has suffered and seen its resources, farmland, forests and lakes fall into the hands of investors and a small group of tycoons,” he said.
“When the CNRP wins the election and leads the government, we will review the land concessions that affect the nation and people’s interest. We will take [the land] and give it back to the Cambodian people,” he said.
Mr. Sokha also laid out a 7-point platform for the CNRP, which was formed when the opposition SRP and HRP merged in July. The platform includes a $250 minimum wage for civil servants and members of the armed forces, a $150 general floor wage for factory workers, a $10 monthly welfare payment to people over the age of 65, free health care and education for the poor, and a decrease in the price of petrol, fertilizer, rice and electricity.
The CNRP also voted in party executives along with its 126-member steering committee, which now includes Prince Sisowath Thomico, a former member of the Funcinpec party and adviser to late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who has repeatedly found himself at loggerheads with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Explaining that the Funcinpec party, which is aligned with the ruling CPP, was often embarrassed by his political views, Prince Thomico said that the CNRP was the only viable party through which to express his concerns about the country.
“I support the same content and programs as I always have. What is important is the union of many parties and personalities,” he said.
Last week, the HRP, which still has representatives at the national and local level, appointed Son Soubert, the former head of Cambodia’s Constitutional Council and son of former Prime Minister Son Sann, as its new president.
But according to Khem Ley, an independent socioeconomic researcher, the politics of personality have failed the opposition in the past, and despite the high-profile additions to the party, it has a clear and convincing platform that will attract wider support for the CNRP.
“I saw that through the first four national elections, people thought that individuals were important. But now, those of us who are conducting research on voters see that support is not about the people but about their new strategy,” he said.
Mr. Ley said that the CNRP’s promises to raise salaries and lower commodity prices would be difficult to achieve, but possible if the government raised more taxes.
“If they thought about cost effectiveness in using the budget, took advantage of the opportunity to collect taxes, placed the right people in the right positions and pushed decentralization, they could do it,” he said.
However, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that the CNRP’s campaign platform amounted to pandering to the poor by making empty promises.
“This is just a campaign to attract people’s attention. It’s just an unrealistic commitment,” he said.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy spoke to the congress via video link from Paris, where he is in self-imposed exile over what he calls politically motivated convictions on charges including disinformation and incitement. Due to his convictions, Mr. Rainsy has been barred from participating in July’s elections but will still be put forth by the CNRP as its presidential candidate.
“The CNRP is leading a struggle for Cambodia,” he said. “We have to unite to change the current leaders that serve Vietnam.”