Campaigning for Commune Elections Officially Kicked-Off

The two-week campaign for Cambodia’s commune council elections kicked off Friday in a festival-like atmosphere, with speeches and caravans of trucks from the three major parties crisscrossing Phnom Penh.

But also on Friday, Human Rights Watch released a blistering report citing 250 cases of “intimidation, threats and violence” against parties competing with the ruling CPP. That included 15 killings of opposition candidates and activists.

“The National Election Com­mit­tee, and its local level sub-commissions, have not once exercised their considerable powers to punish perpetrators of electoral abuses, despite hundreds of reports flooding in,” the report charged.

The New York-based human-rights group called on the government to take a stronger stand against violence and intimidation, and set clear penalties for transgressions.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who earlier this week ordered local officials to remain neutral during the elections, continued his push for peaceful elections by urging Cambodians not to drink alcohol on the Feb 3 polling day at a speech closing the Commerce Ministry’s annual meeting.

The alleged threats and intimidation didn’t prevent as many as 1,000 Sam Rainsy Party activists from gathering at the park across from the National Assembly to shout and cheer through a speech by opposition leader Sam Rainsy. “Long live democracy!” Sam Rainsy said. “Down with communism, corruption and dictatorship!”

Afterwards, Sam Rainsy said his party would not recognize election results in 120 communes where he said his candidates have been threatened.

After the speech the activists—many of them candidates appearing to be in their early 20s—piled onto about 50 trucks, vans and cars and paraded through the streets. “I’m excited to be joining the campaign,” said Sok Sarin, a candidate in Boeung Kak I commune, Tuol Kok district. “I’m worried about the campaign. I don’t know what obstacles may lie ahead.”

Later that day Sam Rainsy Party candidates were prevented from playing an audiotape of a Sam Rainsy speech in Kroch Chhmar district in Kompong Cham province, party cabinet chief Phi Thach said.

The Funcinpec party launched its campaign in Kompong Chh­nang with an appeal to 4,000 party faithful to reinvigorate the royalists at a local level.

“Funcinpec has sacrificed a lot, especially in bringing peace to the country,” party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh said.

“The people are tired of the old leadership that has governed the same communes for more than 20 years.”

He said the elections would signal a rebirth of Funcinpec at the grass roots level. Funcinpec, like the Sam Rainsy Party, put out a convoy that snaked its way through Phnom Penh Friday morning. They started at the Funcinpec headquarters. Both the Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties will begin campaigning at the commune level starting Sat­urday, party officials said.

The CPP, apparently taking advantage of its larger power base, took a different approach, rolling out a different convoy for each district Friday. Starting on Saturday there will be one convoy for each commune, a CPP campaign official said.

“We have built many things in our commune and villages, but we have done it gradually,” said Men Sokha, chief of Village 22 in Srah Chak commune, Daun Penh District. “We have built a road, a sewage system and planted trees. But that is not enough for the people. We need more years to do this for the people.

“I’m excited to join this campaign,” he added. “It is good for the other parties to have a chance to share power and lead the people. Criticism is good, because it helps the leadership correct itself.”

(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse)



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