prey veng town – With just a few days to go before polling in the National Assembly elections, Prey Veng town is noticeably quiet.
There is little in the way of billboards and bunting here to suggest that this is the capital of one of the key provinces in deciding the next government.
Eleven seats—currently split between the CPP (6), Funcinpec (3) and SRP (2)—are up for grabs, but observers Monday suggested the CPP could be the big winners in the 2008 vote here.
According to Kim Sokhom, provincial secretary for election monitoring NGO Comfrel, the lead-up to the election is a lot calmer than during the same period in 2003. The main abuse this time around has been gift-giving by the CPP, he said, but even then, only one official complaint has been made.
Evidence on the ground suggested that the CPP was doing very well and would increase its share of seats in the province overall, according to Kim Sokhom.
“The people in the countryside just go and vote for the CPP,” he said. “And from what we have seen from talking to villagers, the same thing will happen this time.”
He said that although SRP candidates were targeting rural areas more than they were in 2003, there was little to suggest voters are turning to them in large numbers. However, he said there are indications that Funcinpec is floundering.
“There are not many signs for them, and the [Norodom Ranariddh Party] seems to have bigger presence,” he said, adding that it was still too early to say if the election here would be free and fair.
“We cannot say that until after the election has taken place,” Kim Sokhom said.
Duch Kadum, Prey Veng department chief for the CPP, said in a Monday interview that the CPP’s target was to win every seat July 27.
“To only keep the same number of seats as last time would be a disappointment,” he said.
“People in Prey Veng want benefits like schools, hospitals, roads and canals for agriculture,” he said. “We have been providing this, so they will continue to support us.”
Duch Kadum also denied any allegations of gift-giving.
“There is no evidence or witnesses to support that claim,” he said.
SRP activists in the area remain optimistic about their chances in the province.
“We hope to win five or six seats,” said SRP candidate Yim Khun Khoeun. He too said that for his party not to increase their current share would be a major disappointment.
He claimed the vote in rural Prey Veng, a key factor in previous CPP victories, was still up for grabs.
“The CPP do not own the countryside any more,” he said.
The gleaming CPP complex just outside the provincial town stands in stark contrast to that of its coalition partner, Funcinpec, whose shabby exterior seems to mirror the party’s seemingly terminal decline.
On Monday morning, Funcinpec headquarters was empty, with little sign of recent activity.
Contacted by phone, Kuoch Ky, Funcinpec candidate from Prey Veng, said his party hoped to win two seats in the province.
Funcinpec will implement the immigration law, Kuoch Ky said, and will fight corruption, just as it did in its own party with the removal of [Prince Norodom] Ranariddh as leader, he added.
Chea Sovath, deputy head of the NRP for Kompong Leav district’s Choeung Toek commune, said his party is targeting three seats.
“We have many points of policy, but I do not remember them now,” he said Monday morning. “We have Norodom Ranariddh as our leader, and the people still support him.”
In the districts around Prey Veng town Monday, the only people who appeared willing to speak openly were CPP supporters.
According to Houng Ny, 52, a farmer in Baray commune, the CPP would win big come Sunday.
“I will vote for them because they saved this country from the Khmer Rouge,” he said.
In Prey Veng physical rehabilitation center, a recent amputee said he knows where his vote is going.
“No one can defeat the CPP,” Bo Hen, 28, said. “The SRP and Funcinpec popularity is going down since the last election because people do not trust them.”
A fishing-net maker in Prey Veng also gave an insight into the challenge facing the opposition.
“I am afraid to talk about that,” the man, who declined to give his name, said when asked how he would vote. “All I want to see is calm over the weekend.”