prey veng district, Prey Veng province – Standing near a tree peppered with shrapnel at the entrance to her small farmhouse, Phay Ty, 52, can think of no reason why a grenade was thrown at her home in this largely CPP-loyal village.
Phay Ty and others in Prey Nokor Khnong village consider theirs a politically integrated community where following a party is less important than the mud dikes and paddies they rely on for their living.
So when a grenade exploded on June 24, two days before the launch of the monthlong election campaign period, Phay Ty and her neighbors were stumped.
A political motive didn’t seem plausible. Prey Veng is a CPP stronghold and Phay Ty and her husband, Uth Mok, 52, are, like most people in this village, ordinary CPP supporters.
Crime was a consideration. There are robbers in the area, but even rural criminals don’t detonate grenades without a motive, villagers said.
“It never happened before,” said Phay Ty, who has lived in this village since 1979. “And I never have any dispute with anyone…. I don’t think it’s involved with the elections because our village is quiet.”
Her next-door neighbor, Ol Heng, 64, is not so sure.
The grenade exploded about a meter short of the trees dividing Ol Heng’s farmhouse from his CPP neighbor, Phay Ty, who is also his cousin.
A stronger lob would have plonked the grenade right in front of Ol Heng’s front door.
As the most high-profile Funcinpec supporter in this village, Ol Heng said his political beliefs have left him nervous for years. But his worries increased since he erected a royalist party sign outside his home several months ago.
“I don’t know if [the explosion] is political, but I have been scared since 1993,” said Ol Heng, referring to the UN-sponsored election that took place that year.
Determining the difference between political crime and everyday criminality is an increasingly difficult problem as the July 27 election looms, local and foreign election monitors said last week.
Election-related violence appears to be less common than during the elections of 1993, 1998 and 2002.
But that doesn’t mean the problems have gone away. They may just be changing shape, monitors said.
“We can say the general situation has changed. It is now more quiet. Before, the intimidation happened at the top, now it happens at the grass-roots,” Dem Dan, a monitor at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections offices in Prey Veng town, said last week.
There were no major problems between political parties in Prey Veng, and the three widely reported grenade incidents in the province last month were probably not political, Dem Dan said.
However, he said, “I think people are still frightened,” as the intimidation appears now to be more subtle than in the past.
Village chiefs and authorities loyal to the “big party” do not prevent people in their area supporting the “small party,” but they do tell opposition supporters that local authorities are no longer responsible for their safety, Dem Dan said.
“But it depends on the location,” he said, adding that the more remote the location, the higher the probability of intimidation.
Reporting and investigating politically motivated crimes has also been made harder by police reluctance to call a crime political, and the tendency of many political parties to brand all crimes as political.
“After the attack, the political parties show up and they publish the incorrect information to get political benefit,” Dem Dan said.
Election monitors in Svay Rieng province also said that province is generally quiet, but not to be fooled by the subdued appearance of the pre-election process.
One local election observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused village chiefs of setting up “teams” in villages throughout the province and entrusting them with the observation of voters and to influence the way they vote.
“Commune chiefs and village chiefs don’t get involved directly. Now they have set up the team so they can have some distance from the problem. This is to confuse the international community,” the observer said.
Hushed intimidation in remote areas was probably a more potent influence on the outcome of the poll than political violence, reports of which in the charged pre-election atmosphere were difficult to corroborate, the observer noted.
“It’s very, very difficult,” said the observer, adding that when a local Svay Rieng man was gunned down outside his home recently, both the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party claimed him as a supporter.
But it is not the pre-election period that is worrying some voters in Svay Rieng province.
Sam Rainsy Party activist Kong Sinan, 48, said much of the pre-election period has been peaceful in his native Romeas Hek district.
But it is the post-election period that has people worried.
Particularly if the opposition does well, he said.
“If we win all the seats, we will have to run away from our houses. Then we’ll wait and see when we can return,” said Kong Sinan, predicting the UN will be needed to ensure a peaceful transition of the CPP’s power.