For One Small Party, Having History Helps

The Liberal Democratic Party has a stronghold around Wat Sleang on the western edge of Dangkao district, where Chhim Om Yon, the party’s president, has the only house with electricity.

During a Thursday rally, party activists walked through the town in white polo shirts and caps emblazoned with the party’s elephant logo. After they swept through an area, every child had a party flag and LDP posters were stuck to most available surfaces along the narrow dirt paths.

In a campaign dominated by three parties, the LDP and 18 oth­er small parties must fight to make themselves known.

For name recognition, the party could benefit from its unusual history and an alliance with the CPP that spokeswoman Suyan Om, the president’s daughter and a former banker in New York and Paris, said has existed since 1997.

The LDP emerged from the Khmer People’s National Libera­tion Front, a pro-Western militia allied with Khmer Rouge and royalist troops in the 1980s that fought along the Thai border against the presence of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. Suyan Om said the president was a “military commander” on the Thai border and in Paris.

Party literature says that in 1991, the LDP signed the Paris Peace Accords and has run in Cam­bodia’s last two general elections without winning a seat. In this campaign the LDP will appear on the ballot in only five provinces, so they can “concentrate their re­sources,” Suyan Om said.

The most prosperous citizen of these towns, Chhim Om Yon does not have to worry about name recognition here. The local monks know him for donating money to their pagoda.

Yos Meas, 68, of Prey Veng commune, said he paid for her son’s medical care last year.

“I hope that the LDP will win the election,” she said.

Shaking hands with villagers at the rally, Chhim Om Yon called himself “a man of the people.”

Like most parties, the LDP promises voters development and employment while bringing democratic values and an anti-corruption stance to government.

Suyan Om said LDP’s alliance with the CPP began with a 1996 LDP offer of an alliance to any and all parties as a way to “support national unity [and] preserve political stability and social peace.”

She declined to say whether the LDP received financial benefits from the CPP.

CPP and government spokes­man Khieu Kanharith could not be reached to comment on the LDP, but has said previously that parties allied with CPP have a committee to discuss national issues and do not attack each other. He said the small parties do not receive financial or influence benefits for the small parties.

Lieutenant General Chum Sambath, the LDP’s vice president and an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Defense, said he had obtained “authorized leave” to run as an LDP candidate. He said he would resume his government post if he loses.

NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said large parties can benefit from small parties’ flexibility. Citing a Cambodian proverb, he said, “The big boat needs the small boat.”

Small parties, he said, can benefit from being incorporated in the “long-term strategy” of larger organizations.

Though she did not criticize other parties, Suyan Om said small parties like the LDP suffered from a lack of media access. She called the agreement that gave parties access proportional to their 1998 election results “unfair and undemocratic.” The LDP, however, signed the agreement because they wanted to make “people a priority over infighting.”

At least near his home, Chhim Om Yon was optimistic about his chances despite the odds.

“We are known to the people,” he said.

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