battambang – Financing the democratic struggle in this province is a headache for the Son Sann Party. President Son Soubert’s low-key, low-cost grassroots approach to campaigning is competing with a mighty CPP machine led by Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng.
“We could have done more but it’s impossible because of the bad roads,” the party president and Battambang candidate complained. “It’s unfair because we have to drive and Sar Kheng has a helicopter.
“Sometimes I think democracy is very expensive.”
Son Soubert prefers campaigning from house-to-house with a loudspeaker rather than the rally-led approach of his rivals. And he has refused to use the military escort to which he is entitled.
“My staff say I should be less modest,” he says.
While Son Soubert plays down personality politics, he is fully aware that this is the former stomping ground of his father, octogenarian Son Sann himself, who began his political career as the deputy governor of Battambang.
“They still remember him,” he says, recalling an incident during the campaign when he was mobbed by a crowd of women who mistook him for his father. “He was in charge of the bank and they remember when they could buy two cows with 500 riel. It was a golden age.”
But many rural voters also remember it as an age presided over by the King, then Prince Norodom Sihanouk. They need to be reminded of Son Sann’s links with the King in order to pry them away from voting for Funcinpec, Son Soubert adds.
“The farmers still support the King and they see Prince Norodom Ranariddh as his son,” he laments. “This is a big handicap for us…so we have to say Son Sann helped the King with the economic situation of the time.”
The party—under its former guise of the BLDP—won one seat here and one seat in neighboring Banteay Meanchey province in the 1993 UN-sponsored election. Five years later, it’s competing not just with Funcinpec for the nostalgia vote, but also with a new force, the Sam Rainsy Party. There are now more opposition parties for the non-CPP voter to choose from.
“I tell them you should choose which party has experience in administration and not made any mistakes and which is not new.”
Son Soubert wouldn’t predict how the opposition vote will be shared out here, but estimated the party would win between 10 to 15 seats nationally.
If he fails to gain even his own National Assembly seat here in Battambang, Son Soubert says, “I will become a farmer. My relatives have some land. Politics is not my vocation.”