banlung, Ratanakkiri – When news of fighting in Phnom Penh reached this remote northeastern province in July, opposition party members took down their signs and temporarily closed their offices.
“I was afraid for the safety of party members,” said Khoeun Hon, a Funcinpec official in Banlung. “The governor told us we would be safe, but I was still afraid people might come and shoot at us.”
On April 11, 12 days after deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh returned to Phnom Penh after nearly nine months in self-exile, the Funcinpec sign went back up in Banlung.
Governor Kep Chuk Tema joined Funcinpec members at the opening ceremony. The governor is also the head of the CPP in Ratanakkiri.
Since then, several other parties have come to this provincial capital of about 9,000 people to open offices.
Pen Sovann, the head of state of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea from 1979 to 1981, opened an office for his Khmer National Sustaining Party on April 25.
Thon Thong, the provincial party deputy, estimated his party had about 100 followers in Ratanakkiri.
The party’s main goal is simply to procure one seat in parliament, Thon Thong said.
The Farmer’s Party has a small, if quiet, presence in Banlung. Its office was closed on a recent visit.
Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy also made a brief appearance two weeks ago on a stopover from Stung Treng. The former finance minister is expected to return to Banlung in the next few weeks and plans to open a Sam Rainsy Party office.
Opposition parties may have their work cut out for them. CPP signs and offices are in every commune, local CPP officials said.
Villagers from several districts seemed nonchalant when asked about the elections.
In two villages, locals said they were not sure who was running for the elections, although they remembered voting during the Untac-sponsored elections in 1993.
One villager said he could not remember who he voted for in 1993, but he could clearly describe what the foreign Untac workers who came to his village looked like.
Around Ratanakkiri, the signs are going back up, at least for Funcinpec. The party plans to open an office in every commune except for those in the northernmost district of Ta Veng, Khoeun Hon said. Last weekend, signs were already going up in the former provincial capital of Lumphat.
“We are taking the signs back out, cleaning them, starting again,” Khoeun Hon said.