bati district, Takeo province – The pre-recorded voice blaring from the village loudspeakers is promising development—schools, roads, wells and bridges—if voters here choose the CPP on July 27.
“Vote for the Cambodian People’s Party and you will surely get…development in all areas,” the voice was heard to say in several villages last week.
The CPP’s campaign in Takeo is further emphasized by the large, eye-catching billboard displayed along National Route 2. The sign features three high-ranking CPP officials: Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly First Vice President Heng Samrin.
Another billboard on National Route 2 advertises Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun’s “prominent” role in developing Takeo. So Khun, who regularly visits Takeo on weekends and appeared at a rally of 200 CPP supporters on Wednesday, has overseen infrastructure projects funded through donations from businessmen, he said.
Critics have alleged that So Khun has used corruption money to pay for the projects, but So Khun dismisses the allegations, saying that he saved his salary from his career as a lawmaker in the National Assembly, before he became a minister.
“I am like Prime Minister Hun Sen who did not have much money to build anything, but generous people helped him build [things],” he said.
Kol Pheng, secretary-general of the Assembly and second-ranking candidate for Funcinpec in Takeo, said his party has not given any gifts to the people of Bati, but has worked to promote its policies.
“I feel sorry that people are poor so they are given gifts, but I believe that people understand who they should vote for,” he said.
Chey Saroeun, a Sam Rainsy Party official in Bati, believes it will be difficult for his party to challenge the CPP because of So Khun’s projects, but he hopes his party will gain close to one-third of the provincial vote.
In 1998, the CPP won four of the province’s eight seats. The Sam Rainsy Party won one seat and Funcinpec won three.
Last week, truckloads of Sam Rainsy Party supporters shouted and cheered as they headed to a speech to be given by Sam Rainsy on Wednesday in Trapaing Sap commune.
At other spots along the road, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s voice was played over loudspeakers, criticizing Hun Sen’s handling of the Olympic Stadium development issue.
Local activists Chiep Phal of Funcinpec and Nou Chhun of the Sam Rainsy Party said they have enjoyed a greater degree of freedom this year to make their political messages heard. But they complained that minor incidents of harassment directed against party properties still prevail.
They also complained that many voters still feel too intimidated to express support for whichever party they choose.
At a CPP office in Chambok commune last week, a CPP activist passed out party posters to visitors while other locals gathered to drink rice wine and snack on guava fruit. Plans were underway to rent a sound system for a dance party in the village.
In Seiha village in Bati district, CPP Deputy Village Chief Chhin Choeun said the National Election Committee has prohibited him from representing his party from his office, as he is a village official. “As a village leader, we must be neutral so that villagers from all parties can come to my house and ask for assistance,” he said.
Chhin Choeun added that “the CPP is very mature and gentle during this election. We give equal freedom to all parties but some of them still defy the law.”
But not all village chiefs have been following the NEC guidelines that ban village chiefs from representing their parties during the campaign period.”
In Samraong district, a CPP office has been set up in the home of village chief Ven Man.
Asked why he has allowed his home to be used as a CPP village office, Ven Man said his house has served as a party office in past elections. “It is not wrong,” he said. “We have done this for three elections since 1993.”
Van Men said he is not tough on villagers who support other parties, including his own children. In fact, he said, his son-in-law, Nou Chhun is running a campaign for Sam Rainsy in the Soeng commune of Samraong district.
But Nou Chhun complained that his father-in-law is in violation of the NEC regulation by housing a CPP office, adding that the office was intimidating to villagers from other parties.