TBENG MEANCHEY DISTRICT, Preah Vihear province – If an opposition is campaigning, motorbike taxi driver Som Savy has hardly noticed.
“It’s nothing big,” the 32-year-old said.
Politics have hardly stirred the streets in the capital of this vast but rural province, which only fields one parliamentary seat. The few signs of political life here bear a CPP logo. The sole provincial radio station relays CPP speeches and commentary.
“It’s hard because there is no newspaper, no radio. It’s hard to spread information,” said Oum Sirik Vong, the first candidate for the Sam Rainsy Party.
“For Preah Vihear, it’s very, very tough,” he said.
His party and Funcinpec both complain that the CPP dominates the province’s airwaves through radio station 99 FM, and that it has showered the province with T-shirts, hats and other gifts.
Meanwhile, they are holding off on their campaigns until Election Day nears. Their chances of wresting the single seat from CPP control are slim, so resources are scarce.
The Sam Rainsy Party is still trying to procure thousands of dollars to mount a campaign, Sirik Vong said.
Funcinpec has passed out only 1,000 shirts and 700 hats, and has played party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s speeches over a loudspeaker at the party headquarters.
“The party here has a lack of funds to conduct the campaign. We will try our best toward the end of the campaign,” said Bun Sovann, Funcinpec president and deputy governor in the province.
Nou Ven, the CPP district president, said his party was the only one currently campaigning, but he denied that the party was bribing voters.
“The CPP doesn’t offer gifts to the people. They distribute some hats and some T-shirts in order to define that those people are supporters of the CPP, not to convince them to support the CPP,” he said.
Instead, he said, the CPP is interested most in keeping the situation calm. When a commune councilor last month complained that Sam Rainsy Party officials were distributing booklets before the campaign period, he called the offenders into his office and instructed them on the election law.
“We want to avoid provoking any kind of situation here,” he said.
The radio station responds only to royalist attacks, he said. “We want to avoid this kind of thing, verbal attacks.”
Bun Sovann acknowledged that the campaign has thus far been unmarred by violence. Officials from the nine parties competing regularly meet with provincial officials to talk about preventing violence.
“So far, there has been no intimidation, and there’s good communication between the parties,” Bun Sovann said.
Lonn Sythann, an observer for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, also said her office has not received any complaints, but she credits the silence to fear and bribery instead of CPP popularity. The ruling party has distributed radios, bicycles and other gifts through commune and village officials, she said.
“The small political parties are scared of the CPP,” she said. “The people are scared.”
Residents acknowledge that gifts might sway their votes, but they also list plenty of reasons to keep the CPP in power.
Infrastructure has improved since 1993, people say. The Roads are manageable, bridges span streams and schools have opened.
“The CPP has constructed many roads. Before it was very difficult to drive a [motorbike], but now it’s good,” said Som Savy.
Some, like 70-year-old Ros Sophat, remain grateful to the CPP for their liberation from the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
“There is only one party who has helped us since the Khmer Rouge, and on Election Day, I will vote for this party,” said Ros Sophat, cooking a waffle over a roadside fire.
Remembering the Pol Pot years—when her husband died of disease and her son was killed—she began to cry.
“My whole family was killed,” she said. “But now I have stopped eating porridge.”