CPP’s Popularity Challenged Among Phnom Penh’s Monks

The CPP has long held influence over Buddhism in Cambodia, with many—including the Venerable Tep Vong, the clergy’s great supreme patriarch—widely known to support the ruling party.

Yet in interviews with more than a dozen monks at four prom­inent pagodas in central Phnom Penh on Tuesday, all bar one indicated their intentions to vote for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in this month’s national election.

At Wat Ounalom, Botum, Langka and Srachak, the monks interviewed said human rights abuses, land grabs and police violence had led many to support the opposition party.

“Most monks tend to prefer the CNRP to the CPP now be­cause they know about the situation in the country,” said one 28-year-old monk at Wat Oun­alom, explaining that the CNRP appealed to him because of its plans to protect people’s rights and increase their salaries. “The people and the monks have learned that the country’s leaders don’t treat the people well—they just beat the people.”

At Wat Botum on Tuesday, a 21-year-old monk, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to keep his political allegiance secret, said that he had decided to support the CNRP after learning about politics both through social media and from the monks he studies and lives with.

“The CNRP is honest to the nation. They will change the injustices,” he said, pointing to the CPP’s inability to stop land-grabs as his main political concern. “Before, I didn’t support the CNRP, but after my friends taught me about it I started to support it.”

A 29-year-old monk, who also asked not to be identified for fear of his safety, said that he was voting for the CNRP for the first time at this election because he be­lieved that the party could fix injustices such as land grabs and impunity within the court system.

“I’ve voted for the CPP two times—once in the commune elections [last year] and once in the national election in 2008,” he said.

“The current government has treated the people badly, and it can’t find justice for people who were killed—including Chut Wutty [and] Chea Vichea,” he said referring to the environmental activist shot dead by a military police officer last year and the union leader gunned down in Phnom Penh in 2004.

The country’s more than 50,000 monks, could have a sizeable influence on the election results.

Still, support for the CNRP does not extend to all levels of the clergy.

At Wat Ounalom on Tuesday, an elderly monk in his fifties holding two oversized smartphones, explained that a building housing monks near to the main temple had been plastered with two large CPP stickers because his students had exercised their right to place them there.

“Some monks support the CPP because those monks have high positions,” said a 30-year-old monk at Wat Langka, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A 50-year-old monk seated nearby said that while he had voted for both Funcinpec and the CPP in the past, he wasn’t sure who to vote for this time. “Now many monks love the CNRP, but it is very difficult for me to talk about this,” he said.

At Wat Srachak, photographs of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, hang on the wall of the room of one of the pagoda’s committee members.

Yet the younger clergy at Wat Srachak did not hold back when voicing their support for the CNRP, with one young monk shouting out in English that his support for the party was “100 percent.”

A 30-year-old young monk at the pagoda echoed the sentiments, saying that he had also observed a trend in the monks he lived with turning to the CNRP.

“Almost 99 percent of the monks here who don’t have a high rank will vote for a different party [besides the CPP],” he said. “I really want to see change, because of social problems, illegal immigrants and human rights violations.”

“I didn’t vote in previous elections because I didn’t think it was important,” he added. “I’m choosing to vote now because what the current government is doing is wrong. I will vote for the CNRP.”

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