Chhay Rachana remained in constant motion at Daiy Ek Silk Screen in Phnom Penh yesterday morning as a stream of customers filtered in to pick up T-shirts, hats and car decals emblazoned with the Cambodian People’s Party logo in preparation for today’s kick-off of the month-long campaign period.
In just 10 days, the shop has sold 10,000 CPP T-shirts, said Rachana, who, like many merchants selling CPP products, has seen business skyrocket.
Outside the shop, 18-year-old Mon Keo Ravy used soap and water to paste CPP window decals onto each window of a silver Toyota 4-Runner as Hem, a 49-year-old employee with the government’s anti-terrorism department, watched his handiwork. A CPP member, Hem said he spent about $100 on party merchandise of his own volition. The logos turn his car into a rolling advertisement that familiarises people with the party’s logo, he said.
Plenty of campaign gear will likely be on display today, as parties launch scores of rallies across the country. The CPP is holding nine separate events in nine different districts in Phnom Penh, said Ork Kimhan, CPP cabinet chief in charge of Statistic Central Department.
Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann expects about 10,000 CNRP supporters to gather at Freedom Park, for a rally beginning at 8am. Rallies will take place throughout the capital’s main streets until about 6 pm, Sovann said.
Meanwhile, some 70,000 police, military police and soldiers will be deployed to maintain security and public order during the month long campaign period, the National Police announced yesterday.
Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police, told reporters that a heightened police presence will help curb politically motivated crime. A set of instructions signed by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng ordered authorities from national to village level to focus on election-related crime ranging from vandalism to voter intimidation.
“[All levels of authority] have to pay strong attention to providing equal service of security to all political parties during the election campaign,” the instructions read. “Focus on dividing forces to ensure security … of the election campaign in order to make sure it is free of violence, intimidation and threats.”
Alluding to recent instances where CNRP signs were defaced or torn down in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces, Chantharith specifically mentioned destroying campaign signs as a crime police will thoroughly investigate.
Soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces will be sent to remote areas that are lacking police resources, Chantharith said.
Security forces will earn an extra 8,000 riels ($2) per day from today until the election.
The local European Union delegation released their own set of instructions yesterday, asking Cambodia’s National Election Committee to implement outstanding recommendations the EU Election Observation Mission made in 2008.
“A transparent and credible election is a major opportunity to consolidate democracy and secure Cambodia’s future development,” the EU statement said. “[The EU] wishes to underline the importance of the NEC in implementing … equitable media access and to prevent use of state resources in the campaign.”
Stores selling political merchandise have been ramping up their workforce for the influx of customers they’ve served in the past couple of weeks.
Purchases typically surge by 60 to 70 per cent during national elections, said Ve Savath, 61, who works at Piseth T-Shirt Printing and Computerized Embroidery.
A bead of sweat clung to the tip of Savath’s nose as he folded banner after banner of metre-long CPP banners. The store began printing CPP shirts and banners ahead of time so employees would not be too overwhelmed when orders began rolling in, Savath said. They have not sold merchandise for any other party.
The store holds no specific party affiliation but has received no orders for merchandise for any of the other seven parties vying for assembly seats, Savath said.
Merchandise for the opposition party were conspicuously absent from storefronts near the Independence Monument yesterday.
But the party has produced about 200,000 T-shirts and 250,000 banners sporting the sunrise logo, said the CNRP’s Sovann, who is also a Phnom Penh candidate for the National Assembly.
More people than ever are buying them from their headquarters in Phnom Penh, he added.
“It’s important to … make people aware of the party logo,” Sovann said.
CNRP members also saw a bright spot yesterday when Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions appealed to his more than 50,000 members, teachers, workers and civil servants to vote for the CNRP.
As Chhun spoke to the press yesterday morning, outlining his ambitious plans to print 30,000 opposition appeals for his members – workers for whom the CNRP’s promised minimum wage increases would likely appeal – others scrambled for a quieter campaign.
In a T-shirt shop across town, a 52-year-old civil servant who declined to give his name unfolded extra-large and XXL white polo shirts bearing the CPP logo, eyeing out which would better fit him.
The party suggests, and in some cases requires, members to outwardly display their party loyalty through clothing and banners during election season, he said.
“I’m CPP. I need to show that I am participating.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA