Thousands upon thousands of hats, T-shirts, pens, stickers and party brochures
ensure voters will get at least something, if not an actual multi-party democracy,
out of the 1998 election.
Forget party platforms, recruitment drives, and personality politics.
The burning issue of campaign '98 might just be: which party gives out the coolest
stuff? Elizabeth Moorthy and Samreth Sopha check out the merchandise
Savvy marketing: today's politician knows that packaging is everything.
The major parties competing for votes this month have produced an array of little
goodies - from modest stickers to stylish timepieces - to keep their names in the
The well-dressed CPP member should be sporting a Hun Sen wristwatch this election
season. This sought-after number features the head and shoulders of the Second Prime
Minister in full military regalia at 12 o'clock, day and date (in a choice of English
or Chinese) at 3, and the autograph of the man himself just above 6 o'clock.
Boasting 100% genuine rhinestones at the 6 and 9 positions and gold colored trim,
with a brown leather band, this fashionable item is available in men's and women's
sizes. But stocks are going fast: Hun Sen distributed 300 of them to future commerce
leaders at a June 18 meeting at the Faculty of Business.
'Strongman chic' may be all right for telling the time, but some recipients said
it would not influence their vote.
"Even if I hadn't attended the meeting and not obtained this gift, I still strongly
support Hun Sen," said Ly Sodeth, 21.
Other watch-adorned students said they liked the timepieces but insisted they were
not necessarily wearing their votes on their wrists.
HUN SEN SAYS TIME TO VOTE
"I cannot say at the moment [who I will vote for]," Em Yuthou said, noting
he hoped for peace and a dissolution of the armed forces after elections. He added
he was glad to have the watch since he didn't have one and it helped him to know
Another popular place for a party logo is on a T-shirt. With a cost of about $1 per
shirt, they are a cheap and effective form of mobile advertisement for parties on
a tight budget. Accordingly, elections have proved a bonanza for the Vimean Ekareach
Silk Screen printing shop on Norodom Boulevard, which has been asked to print shirts
Front-runners CPP and Funcinpec have ordered over 10,000 shirts each from the shop.
So has determined underdog Reastr Niyum, despite the fact its elaborate color logo
doubles the printing cost.
"Maybe after elections, our business will go down," said shop manager Kim
Leang, noting they make a profit of about 7 cents per shirt. "We are very happy
She might be even happier if she had secured the entire CPP shirt contract, however.
CPP Chief of Secretariat Oum Mean said the party had printed more than 3 million
Second only to the CPP in the merchandise stakes is Reastr Niyum, which has printed
100,000 shirts and 100,000 caps, plus posters and leaflets, according to media officer
"We just give out these kinds of materials to the members so they know our party
- not to bribe," he said.
The Sangkum Thmei party scores high in originality by producing cigarette lighters
with the party name printed in gold. A limited number of ball-point pens are available
as well, according to president Loy Sim Chheang, who added that he planned to produce
100,000 hats and 15,000 T-shirts.
The CPP has also come out with blue and gold Hun Sen pens, which were given to party
members at various government ministries.
"They look good, but they don't write very well," said one ministry staffer
who spoke on condition of strict anonymity.
'Hun Sen' merchandise - that is, a stylized 'HS' in Khmer on caps and T-shirts -
is generally favored by the more staunch supporter, ahead of giveaways and knickknacks
featuring the relatively common CPP Thevada logo.
Khmer Citizen Party president Nguon Soeur says he has printed 9,000 shirts, but 1.5
million each of posters and party leaflets.
Funcinpec officials say their shirts are printed by individual provincial party chiefs,
so an estimate is not known.
The Sam Rainsy Party has printed only 5-6,000 shirts and 1,000 caps so far.
"We are very different from the Funcinpec and the CPP which have big budgets
to produce everything for the campaign," lamented Eng Chhay Eang, chief of Sam
The Son Sann Party also complains of money woes. Party secretary-general Kem Sokha
says they have produced only 4-5,000 shirts, as well as 20,000 stickers featuring
the distinctive party logo of founder Son Sann's portrait framed by a heart.
When those run out, the candidates will turn to more low-cost methods. "We will
just draw a heart, and 'Son Sann Party', on the roads and trees in chalk," said
Sabu Bacha, party second vice-president.