The opposition was brazen and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen quietly confident as thousands of people clogged some of Phnom Penh’s streets Thursday morning for campaign ’98’s official start.
Son Sann Party activists rode in front of Hun Sen’s CPP headquarters, screaming through loudspeakers: “Fight absolutely against those who intimidated people to give a thumbprint.” The message referred to a CPP thumbprint campaign that rights workers say could intimidate members into thinking their ballots won’t be secret.
Meanwhile, inside party headquarters, CPP President Chea Sim spoke of peace, stability and economic development, and stressed: “The election must be free, fair and non-violent.” Shortly after, Hun Sen joined in casting a peace pigeon into the sky.
At least on this day, the campaign was non-violent. No violence was reported as the political rallies rolled on, inside and outside the capital. But it was confirmed Thursday that a man believed to be a Funcinpec party activist was murdered in Pursat province on Tuesday night (See page 10).
Many of the smaller parties such as the Son Sann Party literally drove through the streets in Phnom Penh in convoys of cars and trucks festooned with posters and blaring their messages through loudspeakers.
The day marked the start of what is expected to be an emotionally charged run-up to the July 26 polls, with 39 parties vying for a place in the 122-seat National Assembly and coalition government. The CPP, Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party are considered the front-runners.