The national elections are bearing down on us. The closer we get, the more frequent and raucous the political campaigning becomes. Where the commune elections saw hardly any crowds of campaigners or promotional flags, with only a propaganda video here or there, the election for the leader of Cambodia has seemingly galvanized most everybody. You can’t turn around without seeing a Funcinpec poster or a CPP TV spot or a CNRP radio advert. Even the little-known LDP has its supporters out in force.
Friends, co-workers, and random people that I ask about the frenzy tell me that I didn’t see this during the commune elections because “they are unimportant”. Nobody cares about those positions, they explain to me; what really matters is who leads the country. “Who leads the country, leads all,” one young man told me. Perhaps so, but it seems like an awful small, not to mention imbalanced, basket to put all of one’s eggs in.
It seems a hopelessly rigged fight; the CPP is infamous for bribing, threatening, changing voter lists, and altering ballots to get their desired ends. Yet CNRP supporters seem more numerous by the day. Even supposed CPP “supporters” are often paid to join rallies, which explains their lack of enthusiasm when compared to CNRP rallies, to a degree.
Nevertheless, people seem to be pinning their hopes with ever-increasing fervor on the
Cambodian National Rescue Party and it’s just-arrived leader, Sam Rainsy. Rainsy got in yesterday morning (video here). My classes were half-empty, but the streets were full of excited people on motorbikes, in the backs of trucks, and in tuk tuks, shouting “lak prambi! Lak prambi!” Number seven! Number seven! Seven is CNRP’s number on the ballot. (You might be thinking, how is it that the main opposition party is so far down on the list? Good question, I don’t know how they structure the ballot; the CPP is number 4, if you’re curious.)
Rainsy has been back less than two days, and someone’s already shot at CNRP headquarters— though he wasn’t even there and no one was injured, fortunately. People are suggesting it was an intimidation tactic by CPP supporters.
Others have a different theory. The whole thing, claims one young Phnom Penher, is a sham. Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen are actually friends. Without an opposition party, the country would be much less stable; with no hope for the people, Hun Sen would have much more of a threat to his power on his hands.
It’s possible that Hun Sen will win outright. Plenty of people who hate the man still vote for him, because they fear him. They believe him when he says that if CPP loses, “Khmer Rouge shall return”. The specter of Khmer Rouge is never far and never forgotten. While most of Hun Sen’s ties from the murderous Democratic Kampuchea have magically disappeared, at least from the public eye, the threat of Khmer Krahom’s imminent return is fresh in the minds of any Cambodian adult over the age of 25. People will vote for him out of fear.
I am getting out of dodge for the weekend of the election (which takes place on Sunday the 28th), just to be on the safe side. While it would be interesting to see how Phnom Penh expresses its disappointment or elation, I think it probably would be safer to watch it on TV…just in case.