Maneuvering around the putrid, trash-filled puddles still standing after this week’s sudden rain, the campaign truck pulled into Andong village relocation site with loudspeakers blazing.
“We know the hardships of living here after being evicted,” SRP lawmaker Son Chhay told the site’s inhabitants, standing beside SRP lawmaker Ho Vann.
Claps and cheers broke out amongst the villagers, who were evicted in June from Tonle Bassac commune in central Phnom Penh to this squalid site in Dangkao district, some 20 km outside the city center.
Whatever their political affiliations, many of the 1,800 families in Andong may not be able to bring their views to the ballot box on April 1, according to SRP officials and NGO workers.
More than 3,000 eligible voters in Andong were prevented from registering during October’s voter registration period, SRP officials claimed at the time.
Residents were turned away because they could not prove residency in the new commune or could not prove Cambodian citizenship, Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said at the time.
This could now play in the government’s favor, Son Chhay said Wednesday. “When you create suffering, people get so angry they will not vote for the ruling party,” he said.
Thean Khoeun, an HIV-positive mother of two and an Andong resident, could barely conceal her discontent with her current situation. Villagers who used to work in Phnom Penh now must pay 10,000 riel, or $2.50, for a taxi to the capital, said the 36-year-old scrap collector.
“I want to vote,” said Thean Khoeun, who cast a ballot for the SRP in the 2003 national elections. “But my documents were burned in a fire, and I could not get new ones.”
Many villagers lost their citizenship and residency documents prior to their eviction from Tonle Bassac, residents said.
“Even some people who had documents went to the officials to register, and they did not let them,” said Rath Tha, 45, sitting a meter away from a young boy who stood knee-deep in rank rainwater, waving an SRP flyer.
The CPP’s Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said City Hall has solicited donors to help Andong’s residents, adding that CPP officials will campaign in the area.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha said his party also has activists campaigning in Andong.
“They used to vote for Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s Funcinpec before,” he said. “We don’t abandon people there.”