Unable to participate in election campaigning on the ground, self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy has had to turn elsewhere to make his voice heard.
Mr. Rainsy—who lives in Paris and faces 11 years in prison if he returns to Cambodia after being found guilty of disinformation and the destruction of public property—has tried to court the growing number of Cambodians on social media.
In recent months, he was in Washington speaking to influential figures in U.S. politics that earlier this year suggested the U.S. withdraw its foreign aid due to Cambodia’s poor human rights record.
With the national election now less than a month away, Mr. Rainsy has also turned to Jamie Macfarlane, a fellow at London-based public relations firm WPP, to take on the position of digital director for his campaign. Mr. Macfarlane is currently posted in Burma at one of the firm’s hundreds of international subsidiaries, Mango Marketing.
According to monitoring group opensecrets.org, WPP made a total of $640,000-worth of political donations in the U.S. in 2012. Those donations included more than $32,000 to Marco Rubio, a Republican senator in Florida, who was the co-sponsor of a resolution in the U.S. Senate drafted June 6 concerning the national election. The resolution called for, among other things, Mr. Rainsy—who has been removed from the voter list due to convictions widely seen as politically motivated—to be allowed to participate in the poll.
Both Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Macfarlane insisted this week that Mr. Macfarlane is working for the campaign simply as a volunteer.
“I am in no way paid for the work I do, and nobody at my company has anything to do with the campaign,” Mr. Macfarlane, who declares both his role as a WPP fellow and his position on Mr. Rainsy’s campaign on his Twitter profile, said in an email. “I’m simply involved because I know Rainsy and I really believe in him and what he can do for Cambodia.”
Mr. Rainsy said his niece, who knew the advertising specialist personally, had brought in Mr. Macfarlane. “I have many people who work voluntarily for me because they like my cause,” he said.
Although Mr. Macfarlane says he is working for Mr. Rainsy on his own time, his other employer, WPP, is a giant in the world of lobbying and political influence. Mr. Rainsy said he was last in Washington in May and had met with the senators who backed the resolution asking for his participation in the national election.
“I was one source of information among many others,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the ruling CPP did not employ outside help for its election campaign because it did not need to. “We put our trust and confidence in our people. This election is not about cosmetics, it’s about politics,” he said, referring to Mr. Rainsy’s connection to P.R. experts.
This has not always been the ruling party’s stance, however.
In the run-up to the 1998 election, the CPP employed political lobbying firm David Morey Group Inc.—apparently to influence the U.S.’ view on the elections.
According to listings filed with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act—which requires anyone representing the interest of a foreign state to disclose such links—the David Morey Group terminated its relationship with the CPP in March 2000.
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