New Shirt Song Still an Old Election Promise

All the slogans and promises, election posters and catchy Khmer songs commandeered by Cambodia’s celebrated politicians washed over 80-year-old Chea Sok as he slowly trailed a piece of paper blown along Monivong Boulevard.

Ailing, but not too sick to scavenge the streets of Phnom Penh for scrap, Chea Sok caught up with his tumbling quarry near a CPP election campaign truck mounted with loudspeakers spewing out ear-deafening music.

The song “Wear the Shirt Without Taking it Off” pounded out lyrics that have become the CPP’s subliminal, political chant extolling the people to stay with the party, and government, they know best.

“These cannot change my mind,” said Chea Sok, pointing to a stack of political pamphlets glued to the trunk of a large tree in front of the French Embassy.

Like many residents in Phnom Penh, Chea Sok will base his Election Day decision more on his observations of party actions than the elaborate campaigns of the last month.

“I already decided without listening to them,” said the skinny, hunchbacked old man as he next pointed to the CPP truck and its amplified message.

Chea Sok has spent a lonely life col­lecting scrap in Phnom Penh. Since 1979 he has slept on the streets or sometimes on pagoda steps.

His wife and three children died during the Khmer Rouge regime and, without any family support, Chea Sok has survived by collecting and selling the discarded paper, plastic bags and tins cans that are simple litter to most.

“I am fed up. I am concerned with my stomach rather than who the politicians are,” he said.

Bent double at the waist, Chea Sok said he doesn’t expect the gov­ernment to care about him. But the officials should be worried by young people now living on the streets of the capital, he said.

This 80-year-old is not the only one who does not trust the prom­ises made by politicians during the election campaign.

“The campaign draws my interest,” said Seng Sopha, 33, who works for a private air transport service in Phnom Penh.

“But I don’t really trust it,” he said.

Election candidates spend their own money on the campaign in the hope of later getting a good position in the new government, Seng Sopha said.

Candidates spending their own cash is a concern, because, when they get jobs, they focus more on making that money back, plus extra, instead of delivering election promises, he added.

“Making promises is not hard,” Seng Sopha said, referring to the new political parties that have never been in positions of authority. “The harder thing is their corruption when they get the job.”

Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath said choosing one of Cambodia’s political parties is like choosing a wedding partner for a daughter.

With 23 suitable partners, it is difficult to choose a future son-in-law. In such a situation, as with an election, it is better to choose the one that is honest and hard-working, Chea Vannath said.

Stuffing the piece of scrap paper into a plastic bag slung to his bicycle handlebars, Chea Sok said Cambodia’s politicians probably care a lot.

“But they gave me nothing,” Chea Sok said.

“Since 1979 I have stayed on the streets…. But, until my last breath, I will vote,” he said as he pushed his bicycle away and continued his hunt for scrap on Monivong Boulevard.

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