Low-Key Start to Commune Election Campaigns

With the official campaign period for the April 1 commune elections kicking off today, most political parties have taken a decidedly non-confrontational tone, encouraging peaceful campaigns and turning their attention to the communes.

With the exception of the SRP, most of the 12 political parties running said Thursday that they are focusing on outreach at the ground level and saving large-scale rallies for the national elections in 2008.

“When you dialogue, you can exchange points of view…. Personal relationships [are] more productive” in a commune election, said Prince Sisowath Thomico, leader of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, which is fielding candidates in 100 communes.

Prince Thomico said he is pushing SJFP commune candidates to “deepen” their relationships with supporters during the campaign period, and that he himself will not be actively campaigning.

Despite previous talk of plans for a massive rally in the capital to protest the Tuesday sentencing of Prince Norodom Ranariddh to 18 months in prison for breach of trust, Nor­odom Ranariddh Party spokes­man Muth Channtha said Thurs­day that there will be no such fanfare during the campaign period.

“We don’t want to be accused of creating tension,” he said.

The SRP, by contrast, expects up to 10,000 people to join a procession in Phnom Penh today, said Keo Phi­rum, SRP deputy chief of cabinet.

The CPP has not planned any large procession in the capital or in provincial towns, said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap.

“The CPP has done outreach all year round,” Cheam Yeap said.

Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said that top party officials will make appearances at communes in the provinces and in Phnom Penh to mark the first day of campaigns. “A big procession looks great, but is not so fruitful,” he said.

Speaking in Kandal province, Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to political parties to practice patience and non-violence during the campaign period, and called on armed forces to help maintain “a free and fair environment.” Hun Sen specifically encouraged CPP members and supporters to turn the other cheek.

“In the case that other political parties insult [you], you stay away,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)


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