Campaign Ends Noisily in Capital

Thousands of people took to the streets of Phnom Penh on Friday to march for peace or support their favorite candidate, marking the end of a boisterous, month-long campaign. 

Buddhist monks led prayers for peace, while supporters of opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh led noisy rallies through the capital’s boulevards.

Meanwhile, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen stayed at home to recover from an appendectomy, but his CPP supporters took part in a truck convoy through the city. At least a dozen other small parties drove through the capital as well.

The long lines of trucks, cars and motorbikes—with loudspeakers blaring slogans, and campaigners waving banners—clogged city streets and drew curious onlookers.

“We’re standing here today because we know it is the last day and it’s a lot of fun,” 51-year-old Ne Keou said through red, betel-nut stained teeth while holding her granddaughter at a major intersection. “We cheer for every party that comes by.”

The festive campaigning appeared to come off without major incident.

A 100-truck convoy of CPP campaigners waved flags and smiled at those in a larger Funcinpec convoy when the two parties met at the intersection of Mao Tse Tung and Moni­vong boulevards.

One enthusiastic Funcinpec supporter tried to egg on the CPP.             “Khmer people no longer need a communist party and leaders that bring yuon into the country,” he yelled, using the term many deem derogatory for Viet­namese. The CPP supporters simply smiled and waved their party banners.

During the three-hour Funcinpec parade, a 60-year-old woman on the back of one truck, Hun Vy, said, “Nobody hired me to join this. I came because I want to give my support to the royal family. Because, you know, the country without royalty is a country without peace.”

Peace was the goal of more than 2,000 people, including white and saffron-clad monks, who took part in a mass prayer at Independence Monument and ended a six-day march at the Royal Palace.

Nearby, more than 7,000 garment factory workers, moto taxi drivers and others gathered about 3 pm at the park across from the National Assembly, where Sam Rainsy vowed to put an end to “communist dictatorship.”

It was the same site where at least 17 people and about 150 were injured when four grenades were tossed at a Sample, including white and saffron-clad monks, who took part in a mass prayer at Independence Monument and ended a six-day march at the Royal Palace.

Nearby, more than 7,000 garment factory workers, moto taxi drivers and others gathered about 3 pm at the park across from the National Assembly, where Sam Rainsy vowed to end “communist dictatorship.”

It was the same site where at least 17 people were killed and about 150 injured when four grenades were tossed at a Sam Rainsy-led rally last year. Still, there was little fear of violence as supporters gathered under the intense, mid-afternoon sun.

Sam Rainsy joined the crowd after a morning of campaigning in Kompong Cham, where he is a candidate for the National Assembly. Clusters of helium-filled balloons carrying the party’s logo of a single candle were released, while a band played music.

Showered with flower petals, the party leader told the crowd they would not be intimidated. “We appeal to the world to help us in our fight for freedom and for democracy in Cambodia,” he said in English.

In Khmer, he said a vote for his party would “put an end to war between Cambodians…. After we win the election, we will reorganize the country, rehabilitate the nation, increase the salaries of workers and give people a better life,” Sam Rainsy said.

The quality of life may be on hold for vendors, who say they suffer because customers have left for homes in the provinces.

Some, however, reported brisk business thanks to people stocking up for the weekend. “A few days ago, I sold a lot of noodles, MSG and other items,” said grocery seller Su Phalla.

The official campaign period ended midnight, allowing a 24-hour “cooling off” period before the polls open. Parties are not allowed to hold rallies or distribute literature today, but supporters can wear party T-shirts.

The major candidates were planning a quiet day. Hun Sen was expected to stay at his Takhmau home, Prince Ranariddh was scheduled to return from Sihanoukville and Sam Rainsy planned to meet with diplomats and election observers.

(Reporting by Touch Rotha, Lor Chandara, Jeff Hodson, Debra Boyce and Agence France-Presse)

 

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