Popular radio station owner Mam Sonando on Wednesday hosted the first congress of his new Beehive Social Democratic Party, during which he was elected president and made promises including meal discounts for soldiers and the return of southern Vietnam to Cambodia should his party win the 2018 election.
“After the rain, the sun shines,” Mr. Sonando told a crowd of about 1,000 supporters gathered at his home in Kandal province. “I have been observing since 1970, and the sun does not yet shine in people’s minds. I see only darkness, suffering and blood between our own race.”
He accused the opposition of being too “soft” on the ruling CPP since the 2013 election and promised to succeed where CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Vice President Kem Sokha had not.
“Whether it’s the border or anything else, I have the solution,” he said. “Both of them could not find the solution, but Mam Sonando can.”
The CNRP has in recent months led a boisterous campaign against the CPP over alleged Vietnamese encroachment along the border, only to see one of its lawmakers thrown in jail and its leaders cowed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threats of more arrests.
Mr. Sonando said he would go much further if elected, taking back all of Kampuchea Krom—now part of southern Vietnam—and the island of Phu Quoc, called Koh Tral in Cambodia. Trading in a popular, racially-tinged hatred of Vietnam, he promised to take back the land from the Vietnamese “dog,” and blamed France for giving it to them while the area was under its colonial rule.
“I compare it to a person who gives a dog some cake to eat, and the dog is like the Yuon when it eats the cake,” he said, using a term for Vietnamese considered derogatory by many. “When we argue with the dog, the dog won’t drop the cake. But I will find out who gave the cake to the dog to eat.
“To solve this, I will complain to the French government because the Khmer were under its colonial rule,” said Mr. Sonando, who has French citizenship. “When they ended their control of the Khmer, it was Khmer land. Why did they allow the Yuon to take it?”
The radio station owner, who ran a nationwide charity for years, also said he would push for a law to protect homosexuals, and another to forbid police and soldiers from beating protesters, something that has become common practice.
“Police are for maintaining the security of the people. The military is for protecting territorial sovereignty,” he said. “I won’t allow police or soldiers to beat up people when they demonstrate to demand their rights or higher wages. I will create a law to ban beatings.”
Not to leave soldiers feeling targeted, he also promised to give them a 20 percent discount on food.
The Beehive party is one of five new parties that have entered the political fray this year. Some observers believe the CPP will try to use the party to draw support away from the CNRP, which narrowly lost the last election. But Heang Rithy, one of the party’s two vice presidents also elected during the congress, denied the suggestion.
“We have seen hopelessness in many mandates, but the hopelessness in the fifth mandate is complete,” he said. “Like Mam Sonando said, we have seen the ruling party shoot demonstrators to death, injure them and imprison them, so there is no respect for human rights.”
Choem Hong, who traveled from Kompong Cham province to attend the congress, said he voted for the CNRP in 2013 but had since grown disillusioned with the party.
“They are riding the horse without holding the reins,” he said. “I support Mam Sonando because he is a real democrat and helps villagers. I will vote for him in the next election.”