kompong cham town – Sitting talking to party workers studiously stringing together Funcinpec flags for today’s final campaign rally, Pao Vicheaka’s low voice was suddenly drowned out by a shrill loudspeaker outside.
The deputy chief of the Kompong Cham Funcinpec party smiled ruefully as he looked out the window to see the 170-truck CPP campaign convoy thundering past his headquarters. He wasn’t concerned. Thursday’s rally marked the end of the CPP’s campaigning in the province, leaving the streets free today for Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party to launch their final mobile rallies.
In Kompong Cham, the province most afflicted by intimidation during the 1993 election, few might have anticipated a campaign period as trouble-free as the one now drawing to a close. Opposition parties have complained of police watching their rallies and noting who attends. But formal complaints have been few, opposition officials acknowledge, and what problems there have been have lessened as the campaign has progressed.
Local Funcinpec officials put the relative tranquillity of the campaign down to the presence of their number two candidate: Interior co-Minister You Hockry.
“The commune chiefs stopped people coming to see Prince [Norodom] Ranariddh when he came on the 21st by writing down names of people coming,” Pao Vicheaka said.
“But You Hockry talked to the commune chiefs about that. He said to the commune chiefs, “Please allow them to go.
“Now some commune chiefs are very good.”
So Ma, a volunteer party worker from California, agreed that the top security official’s grassroots campaigning has contributed to the good atmosphere of their rallies.
“He’s the Minister of Interior, so when he goes somewhere, it’s safe,” she explained as a campaign motor launch sped up the Mekong River from Kompong Cham town.
Flanked by six Interior Ministry guards armed with AK-47s, You Hockry spent Thursday much like every other day since the campaign began one month ago: visiting villages in rural Kompong Cham to spread the message that the vote is secret and people should not be afraid.
In 1993, Kompong Cham’s voters defied government intimidation to bring Funcinpec romping home with 10 of the province’s 18 National Assembly seats. This time, Funcinpec wants more.
“We have to win,” said You Hockry. “I think at least we will win the same. But for me, even if I have ten, I lose. Because I have to get more than last time. I should have eleven to say that I win.”