The CPP knew before the elections its popularity was slipping and that it would fall eight to 12 seats short of its goal of 73 seats in the new parliament, a top CPP official said Wednesday.
In a two-hour interview, CPP spokesman Svay Sitha also explained why the CPP wanted only to win an absolute majority and how the party would offer Prince Norodom Ranariddh a position outside government to help pave the way for him to become King.
The interview offered a glimpse into the CPP’s strategy from a self-professed member of the six-person “think tank” responsible for drafting party documents.
Svay Sitha described the CPP’s propensity for conducting surveys to gauge public opinion, described how the party is financed partly by hotel and petrol joint ventures, and how an illegal logging report contributed to the party’s loss in Kratie province.
Svay Sitha’s comments came as NEC preliminary results showed the CPP winning 64 seats, or a majority of the National Assembly’s 122 seats.
“We are pleased with this result—the plan was to win an absolute majority [so] we could [have the power] to adopt laws,” Svay Sitha said.
“If we won two-thirds, it would be much more problematic. The international community was afraid that if we won two-thirds, the situation might go back to square one in which there would be only one ruling party.”
A two-thirds majority would have given the CPP the legal right to form the government without a coalition partner.
Svay Sitha said the CPP had three main objectives heading into the elections: hold the polls on July 26 as scheduled, “mobilize its potential” to assure a victory, and make sure the result would be recognized by the international community. The CPP looks well on its way toward accomplishing all three goals.
But Svay Sitha said a survey conducted just before the election showed the CPP’s popularity was declining, and that the party on July 26 as scheduled, “mobilize its potential” to assure a victory, and make sure the result would be recognized by the international community. The CPP looks well on its way toward accomplishing all three goals.
But Svay Sitha said a survey conducted just before the election showed the CPP’s popularity was declining, and the party would wind up with only 61 to 65 seats, short of a party congress goal last October to win 73 seats.
He blamed the decline on “unequal access” to the electronic media, lobbying against the CPP by NGOs and verbal attacks by opposition parties. Poll watchdogs say opposition parties were the ones that suffered from unfair media access before the election.
Svay Sitha reiterated Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s complaints about the Khmer-language broadcasts by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, and said Khmer-language reports on illegal logging by watchdog Global Witness also hurt.
The Global Witness report “affected our popularity in Kratie” province in particular, he said. Funcinpec beat the CPP in Kratie, a northeast province where illegal logging has been rampant. Later in the interview, Svay Sitha blamed illegal logging on Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor, a Reastr Niyum party member.
Svay Sitha also repeated Hun Sen’s post-election complaint that opposition parties violated the electoral law’s code of conduct by “cursing” Hun Sen and the CPP.
As for allegations of intimidation, Svay Sitha said he might feel intimidated speaking English to an English-speaking person, but it doesn’t mean that person is trying to intimidate him. It’s understandable, he said, if some have those feelings about a party as large and established as the CPP.
But he said the fact many of the CPP’s 3.3 million members didn’t vote for the party proves the vote was democratic. “It means people did not feel any intimidation…. Money could not buy the people. Gifts, donations did not produce the expected result.”
Rights groups and others say that intimidation leading up to the election clearly was a factor. International observers stationed in Siem Reap, Kampot and Svay Rieng provinces said Wednesday they believed an undercurrent of intimidation influenced the vote there, especially in remote areas.
They pointed in part to the opposition parties’ tally of 70 percent of the vote in Pailin and Phnom Penh, where the village chief system isn’t entrenched. That could have happened nationwide “if there hadn’t been this undercurrent,” said Allen Keesee, coordinator of the Independent International Observers Group.
Svay Sitha said Prince Norodom Ranariddh won’t be offered a position in the government or as National Assembly president, but instead a “position that will help him lay the groundwork for being the next King of Cambodia.” He declined to elaborate.
He also said the CPP intends to pick competent moderates palatable to the international community to head ministries.
“We have to field candidates who suit the substance of our society, [now that] we are a democratic state,” he said. “There will be some new personalities in the government. No one will be able to say that these new guys are hard-line.” He would not, however, disclose names of individuals being considered.
He said the new government will feature ministries with one chief rather than co-ministers. And he said the idea of a “National Security Ministry” separate from the Interior is “only an idea” at this stage.
Svay Sitha said he doesn’t know what the CPP spent on its campaign, but he said before it exceeded $2.5 million a month.
He said the party is financed by joint ventures, donations and membership fees. The joint ventures, he said, include Sokimex petrol stations, Paradis Hotel in Phnom Penh and hotels in Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.
The CPP already is rewarding members for a job well done.
Chea Sophara, first deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said the party is treating dozens of CPP faithful in the capital to a vacation to see the Angkor temples. “They are visiting, as they have never been to Angkor Wat,” Chea Sophara said. He said a district chief arranged the trip.
Svay Sitha said that “there could be gifts from individuals in the party, but it’s not party policy.”
Instead, he said, the CPP is focusing on maintaining social order and getting food to farmers in Kompong Speu and Prey Veng provinces who are building irrigation canals and transplanting rice.
“The main focus now is to assure that people can have a good harvest,” he said.