tmar kol town, Battambang province – The helicopter hovered above the 30,000-strong crowd.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng waved from the sky to the mass of people holding CPP flags and banners, before the helicopter circled and landed for the party’s final campaign push here.
Since early Friday morning, vans and trucks laden with thousands of CPP supporters had been pouring into this district capital, 30 km west of Battambang town. They gathered near the health center and waited for Sar Kheng, who is also the Interior co-Minister and a National Assembly candidate in this province.
“I support CPP, I survived because of the CPP who liberated us from the Khmer Rouge regime. We have land to farm on,” said 56-year-old Dep Yim.
On the stage, musicians, traditional dancers and popular comedian Prum Magn welcomed the deputy prime minister. The estimated 30,000 people cheered and waved enthusiastically, under tight police security inside and outside the venue.
“We will win in Battambang outright. Through our active campaign, people trust us. They like Sar Kheng,” fellow CPP candidate Cheang Von said.
Smiling, relaxed and almost obscured by flower-throwing dancers, Sar Kheng took the stage.
“Today is a wonderful day,” he told the sea of faces. “I appreciate that supporters have tried to come from everywhere for this rally.”
Loudspeakers blared out party songs about the liberation struggle and the CPP’s commitment to rebuild the country. Sar Kheng expounded on the same theme.
“If we don’t have the CPP, other politicians could not be here in Cambodia right now,” he stressed, urging people to “make the right decision”on Sunday.
“Some parties have criticized the CPP for keeping power, but it is not true. The CPP has done everything to solve problems, especially those created by the politics of the older generation,” said Sar Kheng.
Democracy is alive and well in Cambodia, he insisted, thanks to the CPP, with 39 parties campaigning freely and a secure atmosphere in which to vote.
He acknowledged the next government could be a coalition, and said the CPP would welcome opposition opinion and would respect the freedom of the press.
The CPP, however, is going to do well in the election, he said, because the party has spent time educating thousands of supporters about the electoral process.
“We have trained people how to vote. This will make it easy for people to understand [the process] when they vote,” he said. The CPP has done this by training supporters to vote “correctly” on polling day, he explained.
Dep Yim, listening in the crowd, said he had received voter training by local CPP officials, but he was happy to take part and didn’t consider it intimidation.
As Sar Kheng elaborated on the CPP’s vision for peace, development and national reconciliation, another onlooker said he would still support the CPP despite the lack of basic facilities at his home in Tamoeun village in Tom Neap commune. CPP often boasts of building irrigation canals, schools and other public works.
“There are no irrigation dams in my village,” said the man, who was reluctant to give his name. “I have to fetch drinking water a few kilometers from my home.” But he said he would still vote CPP because the party was the one that liberated the country from the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
Everybody at the rally was a genuine CPP supporter, maintained Tes Heanh, a CPP provincial committee member and an adviser to the governor here.
“We don’t make street propaganda like the other parties to gain supporters,” he said. “These are all volunteers.”
Sar Kheng’s adviser Khieu Sopheak was enthused by the crowd.
“I assure you that the CPP will win a majority [of the seats],” he said. “I can see by my own eyes that Sar Kheng is the most successful candidate here,” Khieu Sopheak grinned.