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The ‘silent’ in silent majority

Students and Cambodian People’s Party youth attend a political rally at Wat Botum Park in Phnom Penh
Students and Cambodian People’s Party youth attend a political rally at Wat Botum Park in Phnom Penh. HENG CHIVOAN

The ‘silent’ in silent majority

Throngs of young Cambodian People’s Party supporters have gathered on the corners of Sihanouk and Sothearos Boulevards for days now, their mere presence a testament to the CPP’s ostensibly broad-based popularity.

They represent a powerful voting bloc in a country where the lion’s share of the population is under 35 and the median age is under 24. But when asked about their motivations for joining in the ongoing rally yesterday, the CPP youth were, by and large, silent – due in no small part to the fact that any attempt to speak to them was met with the rapid intervention of half-a-dozen handlers.

“They are the young generation who love and support the party,” said Chan Sopheak, a campaign manager who spoke on behalf of the youth, and explained the enforced reticence as a deterrent against potentially incorrect statements on the young people’s behalf.

“Sometimes, when people want to talk to the members, they don’t know what we [in the party] want to do,” he added.

Nonetheless, he said, the crowd had gathered because the youths “like the policy of the leadership”.

Before catching the attention of event organisers, the Post was able to speak to just two young participants – both of whom evinced markedly different levels of enthusiasm.

Ummatini, a 22-year-old student, said supporting the CPP was a family affair – her father works as an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“We have 20 family members, and all of them are members of the CPP, which we campaign for. I’m never absent, and I find it fun and interesting,” she said, emphasising that young campaigners’ participation was strictly voluntary.

Twenty-year-old Lida, however, had different motivations. As a student at a school where many receive CPP-sponsored scholarships, going to a few party events per month was mandated by her teachers.

“It’s a requirement of the school, and we need to go. We do not have class sometimes,” she said.

A further attempt to speak to a group of supporters – who were idly chatting and clinking plastic cups full of red soda – was stymied by a rush of minders who motioned towards the young campaigners not to speak, then assured reporters that the group didn’t “know anything”.

During another attempt to speak to a more isolated group, a walkie-talkie-bearing functionary passed behind reporters, making a palms-down motion to supporters to keep quiet.

When asked if the supporters had been offered anything to participate, Sopheak said that the CPP had distributed some drinks, as befitting a good host.

“I am like the owner of the house,” he said, standing in the public park. “When the guests come, we have to welcome them with drinks.”

By the same token, he noted, questions for his “guests” had to go through him.

“If you want to talk to [people in] the house, you have to talk to the owner,” he said.

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