Cambodia: Net commentators react to Kem Sokha's new Human Rights Party

Cambodian activist Kem Sokha kicked off his new Human Rights Party (HRP) last week with its first annual convention, promising a series of reforms for underrepresented and impoverished Cambodians. Over 10,000 supporters—driven in from all over the countryside—rallied behind the famed activist at the event. And, clad in yellow party t-shirts and waving their flags in allegiance to Sokha, the fan turnout exceeded the capacity of Phnom Penh’s colossal Olympic Stadium—a pleasant surprise in the Party’s expectations.

The convention, nonetheless, was quite a hit. In the following days, Sokha began calling the shots in The Cambodia Daily when he demanded political opposition leader Sam Rainsy prescribe to a new set of party standards. Most prominent on this list was a two-term limit for the Sam Rainsy Party’s (SRP’s) president, a flagship safeguard already institutionalized at the HRP and mimicking the U.S. system of presidency.

The demands have not gone without controversy, however, but have sparked a passionate debate between human rights guru Sokha and seasoned reform advocate Rainsy. While Sokha cited the convention’s vast turnout to establish leverage, Rainsy noted that he could easily topple such an event with his grassroots backing. And while Nguon Nhel of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) boasted his lack of concern over the HRP, Sokha and Rainsy—perhaps the splintered opposition—continued their sparring match without regard to the CPP’s established dominance.

Sokha gained international recognition when he was arrested for defaming the Hun Sen regime at a protest in 2005. Shortly thereafter, he was released following a wave of condemnation from the international community. In 2007, he announced his intentions to reenter politics while president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), an organization he founded.

Despite his platform of curtailing corruption and establishing better human rights standards, Sokha has been a controversial figure throughout the Cambodian blogosphere (which is, quite possibly, dominated by the SRP‘s educated urban demographic, whereas the HRP holds a stake in poorer rural areas). Popular Cambodian cartoonist Sacrava criticized Kem Sokha for supposedly helping Hun Sen at Cambodian Discussion (CAMDISC).

I’m sorry to say that Lauk Kem Sokha is just another new prop for Hun Sen’s background of its fake democracy. Drop your ego and your illution dream [sic] to win the election by your own team.

Sacrava’s statement mirrors the general sentiments of Cambodia’s small wired population, that Kem Sokha’s third party may divide the opposition even more and thus legitimize the CPP incumbency. Internet commentator James Sok soon replied to Sacrava, expanding this criticism to Cambodia’s general lineup of opposition forerunners.

Current Khmer politicians do not believe in national priority. They cannot win the election because: selfish leadership, narrow vision, poor organization, lacking real ideology, no trained membership, no supporting grassroots, lacking diplomatic support.

Less than two weeks after this exchange of commentary, Sokha and Rainsy fell into their beleaguered struggle. But one commentator on KI Media observed an earlier sibling-like relationship between Sokha and Rainsy and urged the two parties to stop fighting.

I was lucky to be invited by a friend to join a dinner with Sokha. I am the outsider and less interested in politics. However, I wanted to see Sokha in person. So I went. During the dinner Sokha got a phone call. Guess who? Rainsy called Sokha. They talked like brothers.

Now I don’t understand. They both exchanged words. And also you all here at KI comment exchanged words too. Please you all, both sides, get to know your boss a little more and you may find out something. I think they both play some kind of game here.

Blogging newcomer Scott from Scott in Cambodia notes some worry about the upcoming 2008 elections and the current political situation. While there is always bickering between parties like the HRP and SRP, he notes, Cambodians have historically resorted to violence in furthering their political agendas. And, regardless of the continuous political rhetoric pervading Cambodia, a country with such a tumultuous history has little chance of creating change through ballots thanks to the institutionalized corruption of Cambodian politics.

Most everything looks and seems okay. There are political parties – the CPP is the ruling party with Hun Sen as the Prime Minister, and Funcinpec is its main rival. Than at a distance there is the Sam Rainsy Party and the new Human Rights Party. There is usual and typical bickering between parties like live shells tossed back and forth. But this is a country whose political strife has usually been settled with violence.

The coming 2008 elections may be a turning point as to whether the HRP will help to further cement the CPP’s power or challenge it.


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  • Bophal

    The Human Rights Party is stealing members from the Sam Rainsy Party. Its existence weakens the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and strengthens the ruling Cambodian People’s Party even more. As a result, this new political party is undermining democracy in Cambodia. I think the Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party should join forces, and help bring real changes in Cambodia. The only way to put up a good fight with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party is by joining forces. Therefore, all opposition parties must combine their forces and work together. This is the only way to win over the ruling party.

  • To all readers of Global Voices,

    You may not know that Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are identical twins. But soon after you care to make a serious cross-checking between them point by point to the ten character traits below, you will certainly agree with me that they are:

    1- Ambitious,
    2- Greedy,
    3- Corrupt
    4- Arrogant,
    5- Stubborn,
    6- Uncaring,
    7- Womanizing,
    8- Irresponsible,
    9- Hypocritical and
    10- Autocratic.

    For firstly the salvation of Cambodia from the brink of total annexation by Vietnam, and secondly, the plight of the poor, the weak, the defenceless and the oppressed, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha won’t give a damn. They care only about themselves, their families and their personal interests, period. They are not politicians let alone patriots. But they know extremely well how to play politics to their advantages. They are democracy window dressers at worst and opportunists at best. Do not expect these two CPP props to bring an iota of change to Cambodia’s political landscape soon, not in 2008 general election, not in 2013 and not even in 10 or 15 future national elections. I can bet my life on what I have just said. Sorry for using this kind of language. But all of you know as much as I do that the truth is always hard to swallow, isn’t it.

  • On August 06, 2007, KI Media published an article from Xinhua titled “Cambodian SRP open to possible coalition with CPP in 2008”. I think it’s appropriate to add my comment to the said article as follows:

    In his election campaigns both in 1998 and 2003, Sam Rainsy said in countless times quote “there will never be a coalition between the SRP and the CPP, and so much so, there will never be a coalition between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen; wherever there is Sam Rainsy, there must not be Hun Sen and wherever there is Hun Sen, there must not be Sam Rainsy” unquote.

    Now Sam Rainsy turns around and seriously contemplates a coalition with Hun Sen after the upcoming general election in July 2008. This proves the following:

    1- Sam Rainsy is spitting on the souls of hundreds of men and women who have made their ultimate sacrifice for him and the SRP,
    2- Sam Rainsy doesn’t care one bit about all women who have lost their husbands, all men who have lost their wives and all children who have lost either their fathers or mothers to the illusion that Sam Rainsy is a formidable opponent to Hun Sen and the CPP,
    3- Sam Rainsy is no real opposition leader as he has always claimed to be; he is just another CPP prop like Kem Sokha and others,
    4- Therefore, Sam Rainsy is another valet of Hanoi, another traitor to Cambodia and the Khmer nation.

    Folks, open your eyes, your ears and your brain and think again as to whether or not you should keep on supporting Sam Rainsy and the SRP. Only People Power can reverse the dire situation we are all going through right now. No individuals, no political parties and nothing else can.

  • all of politicians regard themselves as democrat, nationalist, nation loving and so on. In fact, they are trying to caught power in their hand. and then they can do anything they can. I agree with Mr. Hean Kong.

  • well, for me i don’t agree or against with him/her. my own idea is that no one is perfect. yes probably you are fed up with the words “I love cambodia, I’m proud to be cambodia and so on”.

    Looking at the past nearly 2 millions ppl were killed. that was an experience. and we all should learn that. when we are in one group we are taught to hate other. once we may kill each other.

    Stop that!!! we are khmer. Khmer used to be great (hundreds years ago). we all should stand up, hold one another’s hands and build a new great history for our next generations.

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