Party of Ideas Resigned to Fate in Council Vote

SIEM REAP PROVINCE – The League for Democracy Party (LDP) has waited four years to raise its political agenda from the commune to the district level.

The minor party, which preaches power for the people rather than the prime minister, sat quietly on the sidelines as the CPP and CNRP fought it out in the 2013 national election.

But come May 18, commune councilors across the country will vote candidates onto district and provincial councils. Here in Siem Reap province, where support for the LDP is concentrated, the party has the power to put Sao Sophin, a 37-year-old party stalwart, on the Sotr Nikum district council.

On election day, 82 commune councilors will vote to fill 19 seats on the Sotr Nikum district council, meaning four ballots wins a seat. The LDP, with five commune councilors casting a ballot, sits perfectly poised to elevate its political voice to the next level—as long as at least four remain true to their party.

“It all comes down to trust,” said Sung Dany, the LDP’s provincial president in Siem Reap. “These five people are honest to themselves before the party, but they think that if they wrong the party, they wrong themselves.”

“So, they know that if they try to destroy the party, it means they try to destroy themselves,” he added. “They are not going to do that.”

Sotr Nikum district lies two districts east of Siem Reap City, bordered to the south by the Tonle Sap lake. It is a rural area plagued by land disputes and a lack of jobs.

But despite being hopeful that the LDP will finally gain a voice at district level, Mr. Sophin, its candidate, is not optimistic that he will be able to make a difference.

“There are many problems in the district, but I cannot stand in the way of land disputes and other problems,” Mr. Sophin said. “I might get shot.”

“I have no way to really solve the problems there. The CPP only has the power but I can continue to educate the people about how to interact with society and teach the policies of the LDP.”

The LDP peddles “eight mechanisms” as its policy. The aim of the mechanisms is to take power away from the prime minister and place it in the hands of ordinary people. The LDP’s platform includes limiting the length of the premiership, not allowing the prime minister to hire his own bodyguards, and having the state build and monitor the prime minister’s home, so that he can’t hide heavy weaponry to use against his political foes.

But while the LDP’s policies are clearly aimed at reforming the government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP, the greatest threat to their district ambitions may be the political opposition, led by Sam Rainsy.

Speaking on the sidelines of a CNRP rally here Thursday, Chhon Kimkhorn, a Sam Rainsy Party commune councilor who will vote in Sotr Nikum district, said the CNRP is confident that at least one of the LDP’s five councilors will swing to its side.

“The [LDP] president, he knows what he wants, but we know some of his members are planning to vote for the CNRP,” Mr. Kimkhorn said.

And unlike the CNRP, which has taken to roads and streets across the country to rally support ahead of the elections later this month, the LDP has made minimal campaign efforts.

In Siem Reap City on Thursday, a motorbike with a giant bullhorn speaker mounted on its handlebars pulled up to the LDP office. The driver had been rolling around the city alone, blasting the party’s theme song, “The Eight Mechanisms.”

“We don’t have a large-scale campaign—we just drive around and hand out small leaflets and big posters to show our policy,” explained Mr. Dany, the provincial party president.

“We court understanding rather than votes.”

Sorm Sopheap, 34, sells animal feed and beer from a dusty shack along the road in Kien Sangke commune of Sotr Nikum district.

“Sometimes the LDP come here to campaign with the motorbike spreading their policy to the people,” he said. “But nobody cares.”

“Even if the LDP gets the opportunity to be on district council, they cannot help solve any of the problems here because all the power is with the CPP.”

Low-key campaigning and low expectations is the way of the party, said Mr. Sophin, the former soldier who could be the first man to represent the LDP at district council level.

Like his superiors, he is not a politician interested in coercion.

“If [LDP commune councilors] want to change to the other party because they like Mr. Rainsy’s idea to give 30,000 or 40,000 riel [per month] to people who retire so they can stay at home and sleep all day, that is their freedom,” he said.

“Sure, it is difficult to know if they will vote for me. If they remember the work I have done for the LDP, they will vote for me. If not, OK.”

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