CPP Runs Politics, Commune-Style, in Kandal

prek russei commune, Kandal province – A calculator and stacks of riel notes are spread on the table in front of Eng Thorn, head of the CPP’s commune headquarters here. 

It’s Wednesday, and dozens of party members are scheduled to get paid for their “campaign” activities. More than a half-dozen party members are now waiting patiently in tow.

Over the next half hour, the 50-year-old stocky party leader who doubles as commune chief will take a break from doling out the money to explain the art and science of grassroots campaigning.

He will talk about how the CPP attracts members in part through gifts and money, how it infiltrates the opposition to estimate the number of people who are disloyal, and how it educates members to vote correctly.

This is Cambodian politics, commune style, in the province that Second Prime Minister Hun Sen calls home. This province also has one of the highest rates for attempted vote-buying, intimidation and violence, according to the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

Here, in the commune party office near Hun Sen’s Takhmau residence and 20 minutes from Phnom Penh, one can feel the CPP swagger as Eng Thorn predicts a smashing victory at Sunday’s polls.

He reports party membership at 3,071, or 83 percent of the 3,698 registered voters in his commune, “and I’m sure that 85 percent [of the party members] will vote for the CPP.” This would net the CPP about 70 percent of the commune vote.

He then begins to describe the vigilance Sunday’s polls and control that justifies that confidence,

He reports party membership at 3,071, or 83 percent of the 3,698 registered voters in his commune, “and I’m sure that 85 percent [of the party members] will vote for the CPP.” This would net the CPP about 70 percent of the commune vote.

He then begins to describe the vigilance and control that justifies that confidence.

Since 1993, the CPP has more than doubled its membership ranks here, he says, thanks to party leaders who have built schools, irrigation canals and other infrastructure.

Eng Thorn openly talks about how loyalty also is built by giving out riel, kramas, sarongs, caps, T-shirts, MSG, cigarettes, bread, even water pumps.

“Each member already has gotten money three, four times,” he says, generally between 5,000 ($1.25) to 10,000 riel ($2.50)  each time.

He says he is always thinking about who might take the money and still not vote for the CPP. But through observation, the number is small, he says.

Nine percent of the party’s members have joined Prince Norodom Ran­a­riddh’s Funcin­pec, he says. He knows that “be­cause I send my CPP members to join the Fun­cinpec campaign to see.”

Two families have joined the Sam Rainsy Par­ty, he says. How does he know?

“We saw them at a Sam Rainsy rally and asked them to come to the office. We took their [CPP] cards and re­leased them to the other party.”

He says he didn’t take the CPP cards of the suspected defectors to Funcinpec because “after we called them to us, they confessed and said they would be sincere to us.”

But he says he regards them as part of the 15 percent of the membership who probably will not be loyal come voting day.

The remaining un­trustworthy are calculated in part from the factional fighting last July.

“During the July fighting, other party members joined the CPP, but I feel they came to us for security only, so we don’t believe them. We think they might go back to the other party.”

Eng Thorn brags that only CPP activities occur in the commune’s biggest village.

“There might be a few people who are with another party, but they do not show their face,” he said.

He says solidarity is achieved in part by forming small groups  each led by a chief and deputy chief. There are 243 such cells in the commune, he says, and the chiefs are responsible for delivering donations, and making sure members are registered and vote.

Just 16 CPP members in the commune didn’t register, he says. Those included new mothers and members hurt or ill at the time.

He acknowledges that all new party members had to give their thumb­prints. Rights workers say that is an in­timidation tactic to make people feel in­debted to vote for the CPP.

Eng Thorn also says that the CPP instructs members how to vote. But he says the mock ballots show only the CPP logo and where it is located.

“In 1993, we didn’t have time to instruct people how to vote and that’s why some voted upside down.”

By that, Eng Thorn means, voters checked a box on the opposite end of the ballot. Some also check­ed outside the box or in other boxes.

The provincial election commission chairman in Prey Veng said this week that parties are allowed to explain how to vote using their own logo, but not a replica of the ballot with other party logos included.

Eng Thorn insists there has been no pressure on people in his commune to join the CPP.

“It’s up to them to volunteer to join,” he said.

Saut Yea, CPP district chairman in Takhmau, also denies allegations of intimidation and attempted vote buying.

He says that Hun Sen repeatedly has stressed to party leaders that the CPP membership can only be strengthened in a climate absent of pressure or threats. “If we try to force a person, he would not vote for us because the vote is secret,” Saut Yea says.

Saut Yea says the CPP is running a more ethical campaign than its opposition because it is focusing on social development rather than “scorning” its opponents.

But is Eng Thorn right? Will 70 percent of voters in his commune choose the CPP on election day? In 1993, only about half of CPP’s “members” voted for the party nationwide.

Several people interviewed in the Kandal province commune on Wednesday maintained they have yet to make up their mind.

“I’m not clear because there’s too many parties,” says Kong Korn, a 53-year-old bicycle cart operator, squatting by the road and clutching a hand-rolled cigarette. He says he has received MSG, a sarong and about 3,000 riel ($.75) for a “working day” from the CPP, but feels no pressure to vote for the party.

Chan Thon, who operates a roadside shop, says she has received MSG, a sarong and a total of $15 from the CPP, but denies she is a member or that it will influence her vote.

She adds: “I will decide on the [election] day.”

 

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