New CNRP-Linked Opposition Party Gathers 4,000 Thumbprints for Registration

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Ou Chanrath, center, speaks at a meeting of the Cambodia Reform Party in Takeo province, in a photo posted to the party’s Facebook page on June 20, 2021.
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A new opposition party by ex-CNRP officials has taken another step toward becoming formally registered with the Interior Ministry after submitting 4,000 supporters’ thumbprints, as it eyes alliances with other minor parties ahead of next year’s commune elections.

Ou Chanrath, who was a prominent CNRP lawmaker before the country’s main opposition party was outlawed in 2017, said on Thursday that he had submitted documents to the Interior Ministry on Tuesday morning for the Cambodia Reform Party’s registration and is awaiting a review.

Alongside the petition of 4,000 members, he also submitted documents detailing the party’s internal rules and policies; supporting the country’s Constitution; and putting forward Pol Ham, the CNRP’s ex-vice president, as temporary president.

The Interior Ministry has already tentatively accepted the party’s creation on March 16, pending further documentation. According to the law, a new party has 180 days to submit necessary documents, including the 4,000-member petition.

Chanrath said his party had tried to fulfill all conditions as required by law. “I believe that there is no reason to deny us from registering.”

Previously, however, the Reform Party has been asked to change its proposed slogan, “rescue, serve and protect,” which was lifted directly from the CNRP.

Separately, on June 30, the Interior Ministry warned the Reform Party to stop all political activities as it wasn’t yet registered. The party’s meetings in Phnom Penh and some provinces violated the law, the ministry said.

Chanrath said gathering thumbprints had been a challenge amid Covid-19’s travel restrictions. Local officials also closely monitored his activities wherever he went, he said.

Most of the thumbprints were from those who had participated with the CNRP in the past, and wanted to see change and real democracy in the country, he added.

Many opposition officials and supporters have been critical of the creation of new parties, saying they would not be able to get enough votes to truly compete against the ruling party, while legitimizing the country’s elections despite the dissolution of its main opposition party.

He said there was not much time to prepare before the next elections, especially if Covid-19 disruptions continue, but he hoped there would be the possibility of uniting with other small parties to compete together.

“If we do not have a strong enough voice to compete, people seem to not have strong confidence in us,” he said. “And if we allow the ruling party to continue to rule alone, I believe that it will not be long; within one or two more terms, we will get accustomed to a single-party system and people will probably not be interested in participating [in elections] anymore.”

Chanrath said in the near future, the Reform Party’s activities would be limited to internal meetings, paperwork and planning. Once his party is formally registered, he would work to find candidates for upcoming commune elections in 2022 and develop a grassroots structure, he said.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said the ministry was reviewing the Reform Party’s documents.

“We cannot check the 4,000 thumbprints with our bare eyes. We need a computer and have to verify with [the department of] identification whether those names really exist,” Sopheak said.

Ruling party spokesperson Sok Eysan said he welcomed Chanrath’s new party. Chanrath had the right to form alliances with other parties, he added.

“The Cambodian People’s Party seems not to be interested much [about this]. We welcome seeing them make alliances, but there is nothing to worry about,” he said.

Twenty-four former CNRP officials had so far broken from their old party in seeking political “rehabilitation,” allowing them to rejoin politics, and as long as they worked among themselves there was nothing unusual, he said.

“If we give a simple comparison for people to easily hear, it is that if we get 24 scoops of water with coconut-shells out of a basin, and those 24 scoops of coconut shells combine together, there is nothing more from the outside. There is nothing more from outside,” Eysan said, though he added that more could also seek rehabilitation as long as they do not have active court cases against them.

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