US-Influenced Cambodian Party Holds Congress

The United People of Cambodia, one of the smallest parties to compete in April’s commune elections, held its annual party congress July 17 in Phnom Penh, with par­ty president Oeun Sarath addressing supporters for a full five hours.

As the party’s name suggests, much of its influence and funding comes from Cambodians living in the US.

That American influence was prominent July 17 as Oeun Sa­rath, who lives in Long Beach, Cal­i­fornia, delivered a colorful speech standing before a UPC seal similar to that of the US president.

“If you like US-style democracy, don’t forget me—I ask for your votes,” Oeun Sarath told the 100-plus on hand as he announced his candidacy for prime minister in the 2008 national election.

Referring to himself as “Sam­dech,” Oeun Sarath also compared himself to King Jayavarman VII.

“I am [like] Jayavarman VII, who fled from the Khmer Rouge killing to learn magic power from the US,” Oeun Sarath declared.

But he also sharply criticized the US for its involvement in Cambodia during the 1970s.

He said that if he were made prime minister, he would file lawsuits seeking compensation from China, the US, Vietnam and France for “poking in their hands to stir Cam­bodia’s chaotic history.”

“You play, you pay,” he said of the four nations.

He also took the opportunity to attack various members of the country’s political opposition including Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Human Rights Party provisional President Kem Sokha and SRP President Sam Rainsy.

With the ruling CPP, however, Oeun Sarath was more forgiving. He said that the party and Prime Minister Hun Sen were too beholden to Vietnam, but added that they had no choice because they owed Vietnam a debt of gratitude.

About half the seats at the event were empty, despite the par­ty giving around $3.75 to those who at­tended.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mit­tee for Free and Fair Elections, said that his monitors knew little about the United People of Cam­bo­dia. The four-year-old party did not win seats in any of the 13 communes in which its candidates ran during April’s elections.

“The political parties that did not get votes in the commune election need to revise their strategy,” Koul Panha said. “They face a big challenge if they did not get any seats.”


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