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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP campaigns on its achievements

CPP campaigns on its achievements

The ruling Cambodian People's Party has kicked off its commune council campaign,

citing a laundry list of past accomplishments and calling for continuity, officials

and election watchdogs have told the Post.

Focusing on forward strides in infrastructure and still saber-rattling about the

defeat of the Khmer Rouge, the well-oiled CPP political machine is also addressing

concerns about criminal activity, and challenging opponents on all issues.

"Typically, they ask [in debates], 'What did you have after Pol Pot? Just a

few spoons and broken plates. Now there are more roads, more infrastructure, the

economy is picking up,'" said Jerome Cheung, country director of the National

Democratic Institute (NDI).

"They're focusing on the economic development. They're trying to take credit

for the development over the last few years. The other parties echo the same thing,

but then the CPP asks, 'How are you going to do it? Do you have that ability? Show

us how you're going to do it.'"

According to Cheung, the CPP candidates are well coached and coordinated for the

NDI debates being held around the country. He said they often arrive with prepared

statistics on infrastructure accomplishments such as developing roads, bridges and

irrigation systems.

"Sometimes they talk about health clinics, building schools or vaccines for

livestock," Cheung said. "They've talked about rice cultivation - about

decreasing poverty by increasing rice cultivation during the dry season. They're

very disciplined in their talking of infrastructure. They've done their research."

Puthea Hang, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and

Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said some political parties began campaigning

before March 16, against the NEC regulations.

"The CPP is promising to develop communes and villages," Hang said. "They're

talking a lot about school and road building, guaranteeing security for the people,

keeping young people away from drugs. Most CPP members are promising they will not

let people starve. They say the CPP is the best anti-criminal party. They're also

talking about Buddhism and explaining how they will support it."

A dozen political parties have launched campaigns since the run-up to the April 1

commune elections began on March 16. Candidates are vying for grass roots control

of Cambodia's 1,621 communes, and a step towards winning seats in the National Assembly

in 2008. Observers said that the most active campaigners are the CPP and the opposition

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). By some accounts, things are getting personal.

"SRP have railed against the high price of gasoline and inflation, but the CPP

says this is a national matter," Cheung said. "They're being very down

to earth - talking on a commune level [not national]. In Kampong Speu, the CPP said

to the SRP that they will destroy all the CPP has achieved. [They said] 'We are the

party of continuity - you are the party of change. What do the voters want? Continued

growth or what the SRP wants - change.' They are saying that this change may be scary

for the voters."

With the election campaign just one week old, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) and

the SRP have reported intimidation, threats and barring by CPP activists in rural

areas.

And the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) issued a statement

on March 16 stating that Prime Minister Hun Sen had threatened voters by saying if

the CPP lost, 10,000 government plans would be dissolved.

The NRP said in a press release on March 16 that intimidation, threats and the conviction

of their leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, have already made the election process

irregular.

The NRP has appealed to local and international election observers to watch the process

of the commune election closely to guarantee free, fair and democratic elections.

"It seems the election will not be free and fair and democratic," the NRP

statement said.

A Comfrel report said the courts and the media are political instruments of the CPP

and are used for political purposes before the election campaign.

The report said Ranariddh's conviction is becoming a political issue by barring him

from participation in the electoral campaign.

Comfrel appealed to King Norodom Sihamoni to send a message to voters and political

parties not to allow violence during the campaign.

The NRP said the NEC has failed to take any serious action to ensure political parties

respect the law.

Khieu Kanharith, CPP spokesman and Minister of Information, on March 22 rejected

all accusations by Comfrel, the SRP and the NRP.

"The accusations of SRP and NRP are just to avoid their embarrassment when they

lose the election," he said.

The CPP won 1,596 commune chief positions in the 2002 commune elections.

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