Throngs of supporters clad in white shirts and hats emblazoned with the CPP logo officially kicked off the ruling party’s commune election campaign in Phnom Penh over the weekend.
As campaigning now moves on to smaller-scale campaigning at the commune level, however, some participants spoke of having been compelled or paid to attend, including some who said they were in fact planning to vote against the CPP on Election Day.
On Saturday, thousands, if not tens of thousands, of CPP supporters flocked to Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich for the start of a two-week campaign period leading up to the June 4 vote, waving flags and cheering loudly.
A retired soldier said he supported the ruling party because they paid his salary and bought him land. A young woman, a first-time voter, said the CPP was helping the country develop.
The gathering dispersed after about an hour.
Notably absent from Saturday’s proceedings was Prime Minister Hun Sen, and remarks prepared by the premier were instead read by Phnom Penh municipal governor Pa Socheatvong.
“I would like to express my respect, gratitude and deep love to all compatriots that always give justice, belief and strong support for the Cambodian People’s Party,” Mr. Socheatvong said on Mr. Hun Sen’s behalf.
“Currently, Cambodia is moving forward on the road of peace, democracy, rule of law and development with pride.”
Senate President Say Chhum also gave a short speech from a makeshift stage, urging people to re-elect the ruling party. Despite the unity of attire, not all of Saturday’s attendees had made up their minds to vote for the CPP, and at least one rallier was not even a ruling party supporter.
Sman Zakrya, a 23-year-old from Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, said that he “loved” the ruling party because of the development it brought the country, but added that “I have not decided which party to vote for yet.”
Another participant on Saturday, from the capital’s Tuol Kok district, stood stone-faced and alone on a curb wearing a CPP shirt and hat. The man, who declined to be named due to fear of repercussions, said he and his family were actually opposition supporters.
“[The CPP] asked to come, so we have to come…. We want to deceive the village chief and the commune chief to stop them from investigating us,” he said, adding that he would head to the CNRP’s rally later in the day.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he did not know why Mr. Hun Sen had not attended the gathering, whether the premier had participated in other election events, or if he would join other election campaign programs over the next two weeks, adding that it was “nothing strange.”
The ruling party yesterday followed up Saturday’s debut with a citywide parade of motorbikes, cars and trucks.
“I am happy that a lot of people participated,” said Nget Chaddavy, head of the party’s municipal committee. “It was beyond our expectation.” Heng Bunhak, a 28-year-old participant in yesterday’s parade, said he had been paid by his village chief to hit the streets, but only 10,000 riel, or about $2.50, to buy gasoline.
Asked about such payments, Mr. Chaddavy said he “didn’t know about this information, because [the CPP] doesn’t allow this problem.”
Mr. Eysan, the ruling party spokesman, said the CPP giving “gifts” to supporters was a tradition. He added that the party would abide by National Election Committee (NEC) guidelines.