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Kem Ley’s Vision Put to Test Ahead of Commune Elections

Mourners hold a portrait of Cambodian government critic Kem Ley during a funeral ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. A former Cambodian soldier was charged Wednesday with murder in the killing of Kem in a brazen attack that has raised accusations of a political conspiracy. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

This year’s elections will be the first time the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) has taken part in a national poll since it was founded.

The ideals of the late political commentator Kem Ley will be put to the test at local elections in June, when a minor opposition party he helped create takes up policies he championed in an attempt to win over voters disillusioned with the status quo.

Ley was fatally shot last year in what many believe to have been a political killing aimed at silencing the outspoken government critic, while the suspect on trial for Ley’s murder claims he committed the crime over a $3,000 unpaid debt.

Ley helped found the Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) in August 2015 and it has since incorporated many of his ideas into its direct democracy platform.

“The most important thing Ley wanted was good medical doctors,” Yang Saing Koma, another GDP founder, told VOA Khmer. “He wanted to see health centers in villages and communes, districts, and at the provincial level, reach a standard where kids from rich or poor families or even high-ranking officials can receive the same services.”

He also wanted to see villages elect their own representatives, which Saing Koma says would happen if the GDP wins the 27 commune seats where it has fielded candidates.

“Even Ley himself said that if he had run for election he would have run to be a village chief,” he added.

This year’s elections will be the first time the GDP has taken part in a national poll since it was founded.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party is running on a platform of economic stability and security.

Ou Virak, founder and president of policy think tank Future Forum, said the main concerns for voters seemed to be security, development of infrastructure and migration.

“If we talk about security, it’s a cross-boundary issue,” Virak told Hello VOA on Monday. “Even city dwellers are concerned about motorbike robberies and many other issues. Rural voters are also concerned about ... crime.”

The last local elections, in 2012, did not feature migration as a major voting issue. Now more than 1 million people annually leave home to work abroad.