The SRP kicked off day one of the official commune election campaign on March 16 with a large-scale rally in the capital, amassing some 10,000 supporters packed onto hundreds of trucks and motorbikes.
Supporters clad in party T-shirts joined the procession, which started at the National Assembly at 8 am and proceeded through the city well into the afternoon.
“Now, the election season is coming closer. Commune elections are important for strengthening local democracy,” SRP leader Sam Rainsy said outside the Assembly.
“The Sam Rainsy Party…will bring change to the country,” supporters in the backs of trucks shouted through microphones.
In Daun Penh district’s Tonle Bassac commune, the CPP organized a small rally where candidates reminded supporters of the party’s achievements and promised to construct more roads, schools and health clinics if they are elected.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said rallies prior to the April 1 vote will be focused at the individual commune level.
“We are now campaigning to remind our voters what we have done for them,” he said. “We continue to help develop [communities] according to people’s needs,” he said.
Mar Sophal, monitoring coordinator with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said both Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party were conspicuously quiet Friday.
“Both said they had no plan to organize a big rally,” he said, adding that he observed small groups of 10 or 20 Funcinpec supporters around Phnom Penh, but no NRP gatherings.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha the campaign was generally proceeding as planned, but said there had been one instance of intimidation in Banteay Meanchey province’s Svay Chek district, where he claimed that a CPP commune clerk grabbed leaflets from NRP members and burned them.
One person unlikely to be canvassing on the ground is NRP President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was sentenced in absentia on March 13 to 18 months in prison for selling Funcinpec’s headquarters.
In an interview published on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Web site Friday, Prince Ranariddh said the case against him was aimed at preventing him from participating in the elections.
But Prince Ranariddh said NRP candidates are still very eager to participate. The prince said he will write to King Norodom Sihamoni about irregularities in his trial, adding, “I hope that like in 1998 I will be allowed to go back and to continue my political career.”
Voting monitors said that overall, the campaign period has gotten off to a smooth start, with no violence reported.
But Comfrel reported several instances of irregularities.
In Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet commune and in two instances in Battambang and Prey Veng provinces, CPP supporters drove government vehicles in CPP campaign processions, which violates electoral rules, Mar Sophal said.
In Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district, CPP activists tore down SRP posters, while police in Siem Reap prohibited SRP supporters from posting party signs on the eve of campaigns, Mar Sophal added.
In Kompong Chhnang province’s Ampil Toek commune, local commune officials tried to prevent the SRP from campaigning, saying that they needed to obtain permission first, Mar Sophal said.
The SRP was able to campaign after Comfrel monitors intervened, he said.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Tomei)