Phnom Penh factory worker Heng Nang once believed in the ballot box.
But on Monday, the 28-year-old said he was calling it quits on a decade of somewhat democratically elected governments in Cambodia.
Tired of 10 years of broken political promises and constant party fracturing, Heng Nang said he has had enough, and his next vote will be cast for the politician who pays him the most cash.
“Don’t believe any promises from politicians,” said Heng Nang, a short, stocky man.
“I really hate politicians. Before elections they promise to do this and that, but when they are successful they will do other things to put money in their pockets. So don’t talk about politics with me,” Heng Nang said.
Working in a factory with thousands of other manual laborers, Heng Nang said that at each election time he receives a call from prominent political figures who want his help in persuading the factory floor to vote.
“But now, I say no. If they want me to help them, give me money first. The amount of money will depend on whether I will join them or not. This is the way to work with politicians,” he said.
Heng Nang is not alone in his pessimism over the quality of Cambodian politicians.
While both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party say they are challenging Prime Minister Hun Sen in the forthcoming election, recent waves of pre-election defections have left both parties limping toward the July 27 polls.
So far, the Sam Rainsy Party has lost four of its 15 parliamentarians and other party officials to Funcinpec.
The royalists, in turn, have lost three parliamentarians and several undersecretaries and secretaries of state to the opposition party.
Both parties are putting a brave face on their predicament, but several voters said they are sick of the inter-party horse-trading among both parties’ politicians for posts ahead of the ballot.
“Don’t get involved with politicians. Life in politics is dangerous and the career is to cheat people,” said Kroek Chee, 38, recounting words his father had told him about dealing with Cambodian politicians.
And the recent spate of defections from the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec proves that advice was right, said Kroek Chee, a resident of Battambang province.
“[The politicians] are defecting to other parties for their own interest. They change parties like they change the food they eat,” he said.
Cambodians interviewed in recent days said that more and more people feel the country’s short experiment with democracy is not paying the dividend most expected when, to much international fanfare, the UN organized the first elections in 1993.
That election was won by Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s Funcinpec, but the CPP effectively retained power in a powersharing agreement.
The 1998 general election was narrowly won by Hun Sen, and though the result was challenged by Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh later chose to form a coalition government with his old arch-enemy Hun Sen.
Many Funcinpec followers were left disenchanted, said Ta Chhom, who remembers that Cambodians were politically active and optimistic in the 1960s and again in the early- to mid-1990s.
But the result of the 1998 election left many people feeling betrayed by politicians, said the 69-year-old Battambang farmer.
Once active with a party that opposed the CPP, Ta Chhom said that his previous forays with politics and politicians have now left him happy to concentrate only on his few paddy fields.
“I was thirsty for involvement with politics, but now I am fed up and I don’t want to hear about politics or vote for anyone,” Ta Chhom said.
“I just want to grow rice and support my family,” he said.