KOMPONG CHAM CITY – After nearly a week of criss-crossing the country vowing change in return for votes, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sam Rainsy made his final provincial stop in the CPP stronghold of Kompong Cham province on Friday, the last day of the 30-day campaign period.
The ruling CPP is deeply entrenched here in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s birthplace: The party has held 11 of the province’s 18 National Assembly seats for the past five years and will aim to retain them, if not increase them, in Sunday’s vote for the fifth mandate of the National Assembly.
CPP flags and stickers mark the entrances of most houses along Kompong Cham’s rural roads and Mr. Hun Sen’s brother, Hun Neng, the former Kompong Cham provincial governor who is standing in the election for the CPP, owns an imposing three-story villa in the center of the provincial city.
But it was here, with just two days to go before the vote, that the CNRP’s manifesto to end corruption, land grabbing and low wages drew thousands of people to the streets in a display of affection that at times seemed at odds with some of the more staid rallies held by the ruling CPP.
Sok Sophal, a 23-year-old monk from Wat Angkor Bancheay, stood on stage at the rally with nine other young clergymen, filming the frenetic crowd with phones bearing CNRP stickers.
“I am so pleased to see so many people here,” he said.
“I will vote on Sunday because I want change,” he continued, “because nowadays, the Khmer leaders control the people who don’t have enough rights.”
The supporters bore the scorching, hours-long wait well, but the relief was palpable when Mr. Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha—whose voice has gone hoarse from a solid month of campaigning—slowly rolled through the crowd atop an SUV, their hands thrust in the air in a pose that has come to signify the party’s “change” movement.
As has been the case across the country, the crowd surged and engulfed the two leaders as they made their way to the stage, but the numbers don’t appear to be overwhelming Mr. Rainsy as they seemed to on July 19, when he returned to Cambodia following almost four years of self-imposed exile and was met by at least 100,000 people.
He quickly went to work on Friday, ordering party supporters in the crowd in Kompong Cham City to remain vigilant when polls open on Sunday in an election that monitors fear will not be fair.
“Activists, go to the polls on Sunday,” he said. “Be ready.”
A few kilometers away in Prey Chor Market, Mr. Rainsy told another few thousand people that he returned “to lead the CNRP to success,” and put an end to the corruption that has seen swathes of Cambodian land sold off to foreign companies.
“There are only two days left; we’ll take them back,” he said.
At each of the stops over the past few days, local traffic police have made notable efforts to ensure that the opposition rallies are unimpeded—a sign of good faith that has also been apparent in the way both CPP and CNRP supporters have peacefully co-existed on their respective campaign trails.
This was no different in Kompong Cham province, where roads were closed off in the center of the city to accommodate the CNRP rally and to keep the CPP—which was also holding rallies—separate.
Despite a few delays, nothing has stopped the CNRP juggernaut from snaking its way through the countryside. As it reached a rain-soaked Skun Market on Friday, supporters there were told to “protect the vote.”
Veng Vuth, 52, intends to do just that.
“I’m so happy he has come back,” he said. “We will win. I have supported him for many years, and the people here believe in him 100 percent.”
Should the CPP take the lion’s share of the vote on Sunday, as many predict it will, Mr. Vuth predicts a darker future for Cambodia.
“If the CPP wins, Cambodian land will be totally destroyed,” he said.
Market vendor Trey Vichet, 37, said Cambodia has failed to prosper under the CPP.
“It has suffered. Prices have increased and if we compare it to other countries, it’s not as developed. Once Sam Rainsy is elected, I want him to lead the country the right way,” he said.
For fellow vendor Mang Chantha, 47, the right way is toward higher wages.
“I loved it when he talked about money,” she said, “because the economy will grow and the price of rice will rise.
“People have stopped loving the CPP because it’s so corrupt.”