As the ruling CPP’s campaign juggernaut snaked through the streets of Phnom Penh on Thursday in a breathtaking display of vehicular wealth and membership might, the little-known League for Democracy Party (LDP) started their election bid with their sights, and expectations, set very low.
The mood was jubilant as about 1,000 supporters of varying ages piled onto trucks, tuk-tuks and motorcycles outside the LDP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district.
Their destination was Takhmao, said LDP president Kem Veasna, who explained his party’s highly unusual pre-election message that gaining seats in the 123-member Parliament was irrelevant.
“Today, we’re just showing the people that our party has registered in the voting list, but not to gain votes from this one-month campaign,” Mr. Veasna said.
LDP secretary-general Ok Veth was equally disinterested in winning votes in the election for which the LDP is one of eight contenders.
“We don’t care about the result,” Mr. Veth said.
“We care about the understanding of the people. The result of the election comes in second place,” he said.
Exemplifying the LDP’s complete lack of interest in winning any votes, Mr. Veasna and Mr. Veth said their party would only campaign in Phnom Penh on two occasions—Thursday, and again on the last day of the one-month campaign period on July 26.
The LDP’s zen-like approach to politics, Mr. Veasna and Mr. Veth believe, will eventually enlighten voters to the righteousness of their cause.
“If the people like a party that uses government resources, money and unfair methods, then just leave them there [in power],” Mr. Veasna said, adding that his party works for “everyone’s benefit” regardless of votes or seats in Parliament.
As the LDP’s small gathering made its way down Kampuchea Krom Boulevard on Thursday, their supporters, decked out in white hats and caps emblazoned with the party logo—a ringing bell—waved their party and Cambodian national flags.
One of them, 18-year-old Em Sinot, said he spent about $4 on his party T-shirt and hat. He was also paying for his own lunch, he said, proud of the fact that nothing was subsidized by the party or its president.
“We are paying for gas and lunch and everything—we join because we understand,” Mr. Sinot said, not explaining what “understanding” he had attained.
As for making any headway in the elections, Mr. Sinot did not seem that enthusiastic about his party’s fortunes, nor did he seem to care.
“Winning? I don’t hope so, because people’s understanding is still so limited,” he said.
The LDP was not the only party on the fringe of the election campaigns Thursday, and not the only party that didn’t seem fussed about winning votes.
Khmer Anti-Poverty Party president Daran Kravanh said that he didn’t campaign because he could not rent a vehicle.
“I didn’t prepare any march or campaign activity,” he said.
“Why? Because that’s not very important to me that I do that on the first day the campaign starts, because other parties celebrate on the same day at the same time, and traffic is too heavy,” he said.
Mr. Kravanh also said he was struggling to rent cars for the campaign period and suspects that powerful people are trying to prevent him from disseminating his party’s platform: ending poverty.
He said the CPP’s thousands-strong procession Thursday only served to oppress and remind voters who has the power and wealth in Cambodia.
“This kind of struggle doesn’t stop me, it moves me forward,” he said. “I will find a way [to campaign]. Maybe rent a tuk-tuk or bicycle or cyclo or whatever I can to make this happen.”
Cambodia Nationality Party (CNP) president Seng Sokheng said about 1,000 supporters of his party took part in a march Thursday between Kandal and Prey Veng province.
Unlike the LDP and the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, the CNP is interested in votes and winning the election, said Mr. Sokheng, adding that his first order of business, should he win at the ballot box, would be to shut down the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.
“If we win, we will finish the Khmer Rouge tribunal. If we win, we will ask the U.N. to pull out. The Khmer Rouge tribunal is a foreign ideology. It is not Cambodian. Ninety-five percent of Cambodians are Buddhists. And this [tribunal] is not advantageous to Cambodians…. And if we keep the Khmer Rouge tribunal, it will affect more people. We don’t want more killing,” he said.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said attitudes to the election, such as the LDP’s zen-like non-campaign, were simply a different way of approaching the vote. A way more focused on “understanding” than winning support or an election.
“They try to explain to people that they are not so much focused on the competition or the seats of the National Assembly,” Mr. Panha said.
“They try to make voters understand about principles, and if people come to vote they will do so according to their understanding.”