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Opposition VP Calls for Plurality in Politics

Cambodia National Rescue Party Deputy President Kem Sokha greets supporters during a rally in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Cambodia National Rescue Party Deputy President Kem Sokha greets supporters during a rally in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, is currently in Paris. He did not attend a recent dinner with the families of Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen. But speaking to opposition supporters in France, he said Cambodia should not rely on just one leader, or what he called a “main actor.”

“We, all Khmers, should be the main actor,” he said. “When we give too much value to one leader, that leader becomes over ripe. When something’s over ripe, it doesn’t have much taste.”

Kem Sokha has been reluctant to criticize the government since political negotiations began in July 2014, but he said in Paris that Cambodia’s leaders need to pay attention to the youth and the future leaders of the country, who “should be admired and encouraged for rescuing and helping the country.”

“If we take care of them well and support them, our nation will never disappear,” he said.

Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy have appeared friendly toward each other in recent months, hailing what they call the “culture of dialogue” that developed during negotiations. Sam Rainsy said in an email that such dialogue was more like a sport, rather than mortal combat.

“The CNRP and the CPP will continue to confront each other on their respective political platforms, and each party will aim at achieving victory at the forthcoming elections,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the ruling party is working to include more youth, by offering them political jobs and paving the way for them to take over from older party officials.

“The youth are trained as bamboo shoots for success,” he said. The CPP is grooming its youth to succeed in power, while the Rescue Party is building the youth up for more opposition. “This is a difference,” he said. “It can’t be combined.”

Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University, said the two parties are both paying more attention to the youths these days, but the CPP has more opportunities, as the ruling party. Still, he said, in the 2013 election campaign, the Rescue Party benefited greatly from its younger supporters, who came out en masse, despite the little funding the party could provide.