Never-elected opposition parties enjoy an advantage at election time. They are accountable for nothing. They are free to attack, as Sam Rainsy fiercely demonstrated during a four-day tour of the northwest that ended Saturday in Siem Reap.
Prime Minister Hun Sen is Hanoi’s puppet, and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh is Hun Sen’s puppet, and the government is robbing you all, the opposition leader charged in a series of speeches to villagers.
“If you don’t change the leader, the country will be ruined,” he warned.
Speaking on Thursday to a receptive crowd of several hundred—including the police and municipal officials and flag-waving school children who normally come out for the likes of Hun Sen—at Wat Keng Kang in Pailin, Sam Rainsy told of Phnom Penh politicians and bureaucrats nibbling away at the compensation fund for demobilized soldiers. He said the fund set up by the UNDP allotted each soldier $1,000—a sum he claimed that none would see under Hun Sen’s government.
Adding to a long list of campaign promises, Sam Rainsy said that if elected that money would go where it was intended.
Then he went on to praise the Khmer Rouge soldiers who combated the Vietnamese-backed forces of Hun Sen after being driven from Phnom Penh to this backwater. “We do not forget the resistance in Pailin. We are grateful to the people of Pailin and Anlong Veng for protecting the country,” he said.
Sam Rainsy also criticized Prince Ranariddh, who is also president of Funcinpec, for splitting the once-allied resistance by turning his royalist troops against the Khmer Rouge.
“I want to give justice to Pailin people!” he declared to enthusiastic applause.
Then the rain came down hard, and the public address system coughed and whistled, drowning out the speaker. So Sam Rainsy abandoned the covered platform to shake hands, getting himself drenched.
Some people sat in chairs under tents, but others hunkered down in the rain. Small cartons of rice were passed around, the loudspeakers were fixed, and Sam Rainsy returned to the podium, reminding them again who cared for their interests and bidding them farewell.
Afterward people spoke approvingly. Hun Sen had visited the previous weekend, but they complained that local CPP organizers had only allowed card-holding party members to attend the premier’s speech and receive the gifts distributed on his behalf.
But Men Chan, a 30-year-old market vendor, said he was not concerned with politicians’ paltry gifts. He wanted to hear Sam Rainsy’s words. “I am happy to see Sam Rainsy,” he said. “I want to vote for the nationalist and the democrat. I have lived under the dictatorship for so long, so the time is up.”
Sam Rainsy, on the other hand, regularly encouraged people at his rallies to accept gifts from the CPP and Funcinpec. At Tampon village outside Battambang town, he recited a Khmer rhyme regularly aired on independent Beehive Radio that translates: “They steal the public property, and give you one sarong. They cut the best timber, and give you monosodium glutamate.”
“So please take their donations, but vote for the party that can help you,” he implored. “Vote for the Sam Rainsy Party.”
After corruption, Sam Rainsy’s favorite theme seemed to be railing against Hun Sen’s alliance with the thieving “yuon”—a commonly used slur for a Vietnamese person.
Cambodia is getting smaller and smaller as the Vietnamese gnaw at the country’s borders, he warned. Then they infiltrate: “Hun Sen allows yuons to steal jobs from Cambodians, to catch fish, to cut the trees. The more yuon that come, the happier Hun Sen will be,” Sam Rainsy told the crowd of nearly 500 on Wednesday.
“If the [CPP] comes here, they will never talk about lost territory…. Vote for the nationalist, not the yuon-installed party,” he urged, and the crowd loved it.
Leaving Tampon, Sam Rainsy passed out envelopes, mainly to the elderly, containing several thousand riel and Sam Rainsy Party literature.
Despite some fears of ruling party intimidation, the 15-stop tour appeared to go without a hitch. At the rally in O’Prasat commune, Mongkol Borei district, Banteay Meanchey province, a young man fretted for fear government goons would swoop down on the gathering. “The CPP will make trouble,” Bun Heang, a 25-year-old employee at a Siem Reap hotel, said repeatedly. But trouble stayed away.
“So far its OK. Some people have been intimidated,” a visibly weary Sam Rainsy said after his speech Friday in Poipet, one of the smaller gatherings. He went on to allege that at rallies where his party expected 1,000 to 2,000 attendants, maybe 500 would be hindered by local police.
Of the five gatherings witnessed by Cambodia Daily reporters, crowds never neared those numbers.