Opposition Patrols Prey Veng’s ‘Night of the Barking Dogs’

prey veng district, Prey Veng prov­ince – Chea Poch was on patrol when most others were sleeping Saturday night.

Holding the steering wheel of his pickup truck with his left hand and gripping a hand-held radio in his right hand, the Sam Rainsy Party’s top candidate in Prey Veng navigated rutted dirt roads while shouting radioed instructions to opposition party volunteers dotted throughout the province.

As Saturday night ticked into the early hours of Sunday morning, Chea Poch was directing enthusiastic, though shoestring, opposition “patrols” to stop ex­pected CPP vote buying on the eve of Cambodia’s third general election.

On the “night of the barking dogs”—the name given to the commotion kicked up by pets in rural areas when politicians are said to visit homes and give gifts on the eve of an election—opposition party activists were out to silence the hounds in Prey Veng province.

“If we only depend on the Euro­pean Union [observers] it is like we depend on the sky,” said Chea Poch as he shouted call signs into his hand-held radio, the chrome antenna extending into the night sky through his open driver’s side window.

With just hours before the general elections, Chea Poch and four other pickup trucks filled with Sam Rainsy Party activists were bouncing along the provincial roads of Prey Veng in the darkness to gather evidence and try to disrupt what they said would be extensive last-minute gift-giving.

Complaining bitterly that local and international election monitors should be doing this sort of hands-on observing, Chea Poch said the night patrol was crucial if the opposition hoped to win its first seat in the staunchly CPP Prey Veng province.

“I believe this plan is effective… because when they know the Sam Rainsy Party is in the area they stop their activities,” said Chea Poch as he responded to information that a CPP village official and his deputy had visited homes in Prey Khlar commune, Prey Veng district.

Arriving in the area, three figures emerged from a rice paddy skirting a row of wooden, stilted houses.

With their trousers rolled to their knees, shirtless and carrying small lights powered by motorcycle batteries, the young men appeared to be hunting for frogs, not working as opposition party agents.

The young men, which Chea Poch referred to as one of his “mobile teams,” showed him to a nearby house where an elderly man claimed to have been the target of CPP gift-giving.

At 7 pm, village officials came calling and gave 800 riel for each person in his family, said the 66-year-old man, who requested anonymity.

“They just gave it to me. They didn’t say anything,” he said. “That sum of money can’t buy a vote. I will only take the money,” he said.

It was the first of several stops the opposition patrol vehicles made, responding to information from “mobile teams”—on foot and on bicycles—who radioed in reports on the situation from Prey Veng district in the middle of the province to Peam Ro district along the Mekong River.

“We don’t have guns; we have [hand-held radios] and telephones,” said Chea Poch, who between juggling incoming calls from two mobile phones and his hand-held radio, urged his volunteers to stay awake the entire night and to stand up to the “communists.”

The CPP’s alleged 800 riel gift was a sizable amount in dirt-poor Prey Veng, members of the opposition patrol said.

Though the pickups traveled the hard-packed earth roads, and the mobile teams kept watch over their villages, there was little real evidence that the CPP were out to make the dogs bark on Satur­day night.

“We only heard the dogs barking and the people walking around but we did not see the people giving out the gifts. But we are following the noise of the dogs barking,” said one opposition activist in Peam Ro.

It was a similar story in a village a couple of kilometers farther on.

Several Sam Rainsy Party activists attributed the lack of evidence of gift giving to the effectiveness of their night vigil. But it wasn’t just the opposition that was up until the early hours of Sunday morning.

At one stage three opposition vehicles parked on a quiet stretch of road a short distance from what they said was a CPP candidate’s pickup, which they said they believed was trying to deliver gifts.

The vehicle, carrying two bodyguards, later retired to local CPP offices that were also open late into the night.

Barking dogs on the eve of elections may also be a thing of the past.

CPP supporters reported on Sunday that they had slept soundly on Saturday night as the gift-giving had already been done at a reasonable hour, earlier in the week.

“Last night there was no donations given in this village. About three days ago, before the election, about 400 villagers were given 600 riel each in Svay Antor I village,” said Han Hoeurn, a CPP activist at Svay Antor commune polling station.

“It was aid for those people. I saw the village chief provide the money to the people. We never threatened anyone to vote [for CPP]. The money was distributed equally, regardless of political support,” Han Hoeurn said.

Sam Teng, 57, said she still voted for the CPP because of the personal links their candidate still kept with villagers in Prey Veng, and the little gifts.

At Wat Ba­borng Leu polling station in Peam Ro, Sam Teng said, “I pray the CPP can win the third election because they build roads, schools and provide donations, especially to the old people like me.”

 

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