BATTAMBANG TOWN – The three main political parties were busy putting the final touches to their election campaign strategy for hotly contested Battambang province on Wednesday in preparation for today’s official launch of the one-month campaign period.
The ruling CPP’s headquarters was busy and suffused with an air of quiet confidence as workers went over the final details of their campaign plans and painters hoisted ladders to put a fresh coat of blue and gold paint over a large billboard depiction of the CPP’s emblematic Devada—an angel from the Buddhist pantheon.
Top CPP candidate for the province, co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng, is expected to lead a rally in the town today to launch the campaign. Hundreds of party volunteers and a convoy of some 100 vehicles will drive through town to drum up party support.
Across town, Funcinpec’s Battambang candidate, Serey Kosal, was also urging on supporters at an eve-of-the-campaign pep talk at the more modest royalist party headquarters. Party workers were getting last-minute plans and money to prepare for district visits of some 16 high-ranking royalist party members who are helping the campaign efforts in the province.
Determination and brand-new party T-shirts were in abundance at the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters, where Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang was going over details of the opposition’s campaign, which will include a 150-strong motorcycle convoy that is scheduled to visit three districts in the province today.
Despite the competition, CPP officials were confident their track record in government will see them keeping the three parliamentary seats in Battambang province that they now hold.
“There are 16 parties registered in Battambang, but only six joined a meeting with the Provincial Election Committee [on Tuesday] to discuss their campaigns,” said So Sokun, deputy director of the CPP office in Battambang province.
Only the CPP and Funcinpec appear to have an organized strategy and schedule for the campaign period, said So Sokun, adding that Sar Kheng and 15 other top-ranking party members will lead the campaign.
Some 300,000 CPP T-shirts and 300,000 CPP baseball caps have been prepared for the Battambang campaign, said So Sokun.
“The CPP will focus on two big things. First, we have to tell the people about the achievements made by the CPP since 1979; and second, we will tell the people what the party’s platform is after we win the election,” So Sokun said. Topping the CPP’s 11-point plan for the next five years is agricultural and industrial development, he said.
Sar Kheng is vying for a seat against two popular former royalist generals, Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal, and the opposition’s Eng Chhay Eang. But So Sokun said the CPP has little to worry about in Battambang, where the people equate roads and hospital and school construction with the CPP.
“What the CPP has promised, we have done, and the people understand this,” So Sokun said.
So Sokun also predicted an incident-free election, as people were now more familiar with democracy.
“The people understand about democracy and they understand about the principles of the political parties,” he said.
Serey Kosal, who is standing third on the Funcinpec list in Battambang, said the royalist party message will focus on border encroachment, illegal immigration, corruption and the country’s grinding poverty. He attacked as hypocritical CPP candidates who say they cannot raise the salary of civil servants but seemingly have mountains of money to fund their election campaigns.
Serey Kosal also accused the CPP of commandeering National Police vehicles in Battambang province to help transport items for their election campaign.
The CPP—in the 1993 and 1998 elections—has won only a maximum of three seats in Battambang province and is unlikely to do any better this year, Serey Kosal said. He said Funcinpec expects to win four or five seats.
“Sar Kheng is not a success in Battambang,” he added.
Eng Chhay Eang said the opposition, too, has dug deep roots in Battambang province as a result of people’s frustration with the CPP and the policies that perpetuate poverty. Battambang will prove that the opposition has moved beyond urban students and intellectuals and now appeals to the rural poor, he said.
“The people know that schools were built and [the CPP] put their name on it. But the poor people cannot afford to pay for their children’s schooling. Hospitals were built but people have to sell their livestock or pawn their farms to pay for treatment in hospital. The people know about this,” Eng Chhay Eang said.
The CPP “takes 10 times and only gives back one time.”
Anti-corruption, border protection and poverty alleviation will lead the opposition’s campaign message,” he added.