Minister’s Plea Put to Test as White Building Residents Vote

Land Management Minister Chea Sophara’s multiple pleas over the past months for White Building residents to vote for the ruling party may not have had much sway over homeowner ballot decisions in the commune elections.

Many residents in the iconic building’s cafes and common areas on Sunday had purple-stained fingers after voting, but most interviewed said the minister’s remarks —made during compensation negotiations for their soon-to-be-razed homes—didn’t make a difference once they entered the polling station.

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A resident of Phnom Penh’s condemned White Building speaks at a compensation meeting at the Land Management Ministry on Tuesday. Land Management Minister Chea Sophara urged the assembled families to vote for the CPP, repeating calls he made last month. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“It wasn’t important,” said Kong Na, 50, a White Building homeowner who has voted in every election since 1993. “We think about the people and the future.”

Ms. Na, along with more than 90 percent of the building’s 493 homeowners, has agreed to the ministry’s final compensation offer of $1,400 per square meter. The iconic Phnom Penh building is set to be demolished to make way for a 21-story condominium and commercial complex.

Another resident, 37-year-old Noun Thanin, who has also voted in every election since 1993, said, “I feel so happy,” after voting.

When asked whether Mr. Sophara had influenced his decision, Mr. Thanin laughed.

“They can say who to vote for, but it’s our right to choose,” he said.

Mr. Sophara’s remarks did persuade at least one resident. Srey Po, 41, is one of a handful of people who haven’t agreed to the ministry’s terms, setting up a potential standoff after residents begin to move out on Tuesday.

Though she hasn’t accepted his terms, Mr. Sophara “convinced me,” she said on Sunday. “I believed him…. I want them to help us, so I voted for them.”

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