Kong Sareach knew six months ago that it was the Sam Rainsy Party—and not Funcinpec—that would give the CPP a race in Phnom Penh’s commune council elections.
“Our pre-election surveys were very important,” he said Tuesday. “They told us that Funcinpec was losing strength, and that the Sam Rainsy Party would be our rival.”
Not that he thinks the Sam Rainsy Party should be patting itself on the back over Sunday’s results. “Sam Rainsy should not be happy,” Kong Sareach said. “He should be pulling his hair, wondering why he didn’t do better.”
Kong Sareach organized the Phnom Penh commune elections for the CPP, and on Sunday his party won 70 of the city’s 76 communes, while the Sam Rainsy Party took the rest. He and his exhausted staff could have been forgiven if they had taken a much-needed break.
Instead they were hard at work Tuesday, assessing what they had learned and thinking ahead to next year’s national elections.
“Our preparation was what made the difference,” Kong Sareach said. “We started long ago. We have been working on these things since the beginnings of the party.”
Sam Rainsy said Monday that he believed the CPP had mobilized “100 percent” of its core supporters, and that the ruling party could not grow any larger.
Not so, said Kong Sareach, citing election numbers. In 1993, the CPP won 110,000 votes in Phnom Penh. In 1998, that total rose to 140,000. On Sunday, according to preliminary CPP totals, the party received 180,000 votes.
The Sam Rainsy Party won 132,000 votes in Phnom Penh in 1998. Preliminary returns show the party claiming 126,000 votes on Sunday.
The CPP‘s big gain came from Funcinpec, which dropped from nearly 160,000 in 1998 to about 50,000 on Sunday. Kong Sareach declined to speculate about why Funcinpec had performed so poorly, though he admitted many have asked that question.
Instead, he stressed the importance of getting a clear understanding of the situation in order to draw up the right game plan. “One Khmer proverb says, ‘In order to farm, you have to look at the field first,’” he said.
He compared the CPP’s preparation to the type of research a family does before a child becomes engaged. “If we allow our children to marry, we have to check out the other family,” he said.
CPP workers fanned out across the city last year to interview voters at random. They asked six questions: what’s your name, what’s your job, how old are you, are you going to vote, do you like your current commune chief, and if you don’t like him, what other party do you prefer?
The data was invaluable, Kong Sareach said. They learned which commune officials were unpopular and replaced 30 percent of them. They also learned that Funcinpec, at least in Phnom Penh, didn’t pose much of a threat.
Kong Sareach would not say how many voters were questioned, but did say the survey did not extend to all communes in the city. “It would have been too expensive to go everywhere,” he said.
The CPP is already beginning to analyze Sunday’s numbers to see where it was particularly effective. One example was Chamkar Mon district. According to Kong Sareach said, the Sam Rainsy Party won eight of 12 communes in 1998; on Sunday it won only one.
“You may remember that in Tuol Svay Prey II commune, we lost to the Sam Rainsy Party by 700 votes in 1998,” he said. “This time, we won.”
In several small communes, such as Russei Keo district’s Prek Ta Sek and Sak Sampov in Dangkao district, the CPP won all five seats, which should mean business as usual or at least short council meetings.
Kong Sareach believes the CPP trounced the other parties because it planned better, worked harder and campaigned relentlessly. The CPP, much better funded than its adversaries, plastered communes with brochures and color photos of its candidates, and organized mini-parades in each commune during the campaign period.
By comparison the Sam Rainsy Party “just promoted Sam Rainsy, not their candidates,” he said.
Kong Sareach brushed aside the complaints of other parties and election observers that the CPP unfairly dominated the broadcast media, with other parties getting virtually no coverage. “That is a small problem,” he said.
“Now, we beat them both,” he said, pointing out that it is a Khmer tradition “to vote for the one you know.”