It was billed as an International Labor Day ceremony, but it looked and sounded more like a massive Funcinpec rally ahead of the July 27 general election.
Some 6,000 garment factory and construction workers turned out at Funcinpec headquarters Thursday, clapping wildly as Prince Norodom Ranariddh blasted corruption, low wages and the poor direction the country has taken since he was ousted as first prime minister in 1997.
The atmosphere was more rock concert than party convention, as the thousands of mostly young factory workers stood on plastic chairs clapping and chanting in unison as Prince Ranariddh made some grand pre-election promises.
“Vote for me. Vote for the Funcinpec party. Make me the Prime Minister. I will solve all your problems. It is easy,” Prince Ranariddh told the crowd through booming speakers.
“In 1993, I got a lot of votes from the people…but I was deposed,” he said, adding that he had been unable to keep his previous election promises because the reins of power had been snatched.
But, the prince added, “I never sold my head to anyone.”
Prince Ranariddh also blasted the poor treatment of the country’s garment factory workers and noted that government labor inspectors—entrusted to settle factory disputes fairly—are bribed to make decisions in favor of management.
Basic wages for garment factory workers should be raised to at least $60, the prince said.
He also attacked the construction of the new multi-million dollar casino and hotel overlooking Hun Sen Park near the grounds for the new National Assembly.
Ordinary people are never winners in a casino and crime in Phnom Penh would increase following its opening, the prince said.
Prince Ranariddh’s message seemed to strike a chord with the audience, although some were expecting more than just election promises for attending.
“People told me to come here. I heard they will distribute gifts. We want gifts, but anyway I like the royalists and I will vote for them,” said Un Bunna, a 39-year-old factory worker.
Sea Sang, 40, a motorcycle-taxi driver from Kampuchea Krom, said he liked the prince’s speech.
“I voted for Funcinpec in 1998, so maybe I will vote for the King again,” said Sea Sang, adding that he felt the royalists were the best choice to help the Khmer Krom minority in Vietnam.
For those that turned up at the rally, the royalist party also had thousands of sarongs, kramas, sandwiches and bottled water on hand.
The prince said King Norodom Sihanouk was in good health in China.
However, Funcinpec Parliamentarian Princess Norodom Vacheara sternly criticized her fellow royalists on Wednesday claiming they had failed to defend the King during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent attack on his mysterious royal pen pal, Ruom Ritt.
Speaking from France, Prince Vacheara—the half-sister of the King—accused royalist officials of being quick to trade on the King’s cachet with the Cambodian electorate.
“I don’t understand why the Funcinpec party did not defend the King when someone scolded him,” the princess said.