The CPP has not officially complained to the National Election Committee about the opposition’s use of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in their campaign speeches.
Yet, CPP members said in the past week the opposition’s use of the race card against the party has stirred up resentment in its ranks.
“We are angry, but we don’t do anything,” Sum Manit, a CPP reserve candidate in Takeo and a secretary of state for Cabinet, said Wednesday.
If any complaint is to be made to the National Election Committee, it will come directly from CPP headquarters, he said. “It is up to the CPP headquarters [to] deal with that,” he said.
Party officials said last week that CPP Vice President and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered party members not to react to incitement. Instead, all CPP members’ complaints about abusive language will be made to their Phnom Penh headquarters.
The opposition regularly employs ethnic slurs when it alleges the CPP permitted Vietnamese territorial gains and illegal immigration across a porous border.
The rhetoric plays on Cambodians’ long-standing fears that waves of Vietnamese immigrants will usurp their most precious source of income—their farmland. The CPP is also often accused of maintaining improperly close lines of communication with the Communist Party of Vietnam.
The use of ethnic slurs is a controversial campaign tool, and political observers and human rights activists have said the opposition should not be allowed to verbally attack the Vietnamese.
Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said last week it may be to the advantage of the CPP not to complain to the NEC and keep a low profile on the issue.
By publicly complaining or becoming otherwise inflamed, the CPP could unwittingly implicate themselves in the eyes of voters for alleged negligence in protecting Cambodia’s national identity and geographical sovereignty.
The link to the CPP dates back to 1978 when the Vietnamese organized Cambodian resistance to the Khmer Rouge regime. Less than a year later Vietnam toppled the Khmer Rouge and installed the CPP’s forerunner, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea, as the ruling party in a communist state.
It all has amounted to referring to ethnic Vietnamese as “yuon,” a word used as a derogatory term, and CPP members as “puppets of the yuon.” A popular rhyming campaign slogan goes a little like this: “If you vote for the right party, the yuon will decrease. If you vote for the wrong party, the yuon will increase.”
“The calling of the CPP as a puppet of the ‘yuon’ is not a new thing for those people,” said Muth Khieu, an adviser to Hun Sen, who in 1979 was installed as the Cambodian foreign minister by the Vietnamese. “But the CPP does not react to [opposition leader] Sam Rainsy at all because…the CPP is trying to extinguish violence.”
Chhay Than, a CPP undersecretary of state for finance and candidate for Kandal province, said the use of the anti-Vietnamese platform is neither moral nor dignified. “Politicians should not use such swear words,” he said.
Whether posed as an issue of illegal immigration or national security, the opposition is using language that is “racist or an incitement to racial hatred,” Lao Mong Hay said. “Because of the Khmer long-standing feeling against the Vietnamese, it just stokes up the fire.”
The insults are meant to incite the CPP to violence, Sum Manit said. “They are always saying ‘If you vote for the CPP, you vote for the Vietnamese,’” he said. “Everyone asks the CPP to be fair, but no one asks the opposition to be fair.”
One fear is the inflammatory remarks will move opposition supporters to commit violence against the ethnic Vietnamese here. So far, at least two bloody attacks—including 12 ethnic Vietnamese killed in Kompong Chhnang in April—have had resonance with the electoral process.
The opposition has repeatedly accused the CPP of using hand-picked poll workers to register illegal Vietnamese to vote in Sunday’s election. CPP has denied the charges.
(Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)