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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP in cyberspace: spreading 'the truth' on the Net

CPP in cyberspace: spreading 'the truth' on the Net

CONFUSED about Cambodian politics? Not sure where to turn to for information, and

who to believe? Relax, help is at your fingertips: the CPP home page on the Internet.

"Welcome to the Cambodian People's Party Home Page. You've come to the right

place!" begins the introduction on the CPP's Internet website launched Dec 2,

the 19th anniversary of the party's founding.

"We realize that the political world can be brutal and very confusing,"

the CPP avows. "Here we hope to step above that and offer a clear, intelligent

view of Cambodia."

It goes on to state the goals of the home page, including (No.1) "to refute

liberalism and its allies in the media using the facts of the issues rather than

deception".

Five months after images of tanks rolling through Phnom Penh streets were beamed

around the globe, the CPP's foray into cyberspace is aimed at showing a softer face

to the world.

The website bears the customary passport-type photos of the CPP leadership - Heng

Samrin, Chea Sim and Hun Sen - in rigid poses. But there is also considerable effort

to portray Hun Sen, the Second Prime Minister and CPP vice-president, in a more casual

and gentle fashion.

"In the beginning it was difficult because they could not find any friendly-looking

pictures of Hun Sen," said a staffer at Lidee Khmer, an association of Khmer

students which offers Internet services in Phnom Penh, who was asked for advice about

the website.

But eventually something suitable was found; now, with a click on your computer mouse,

you can download snapshots of "Hun Sen and the people" - such as him sitting

on a woven mat with a group of elderly women villagers - and "Hun Sen and the

future", featuring a grinning Hun Sen clutching a laughing schoolgirl.

Another set of pictures shows Hun Sen the family man, arm-in-arm with his wife Bun

Rany, as well as photos of the Second Lady engaged in "humanitarian activities",

"social activities" and as an "environmental activist".

But it is politics - and particularly the events of July - which dominates the website.

It features a "News Stand" section - or "Newstance" as it said

when the Post accessed it this week - with articles explaining the pre-July, July,

and post-July crises.

One is an article by academic Michael Vickery - published in the Phnom Penh Post

- under the headline "The real story of Cambodia cries out to be told".

Pieces of text about the CPP political platform and bylaws, and pictures of the party

headquarters and CPP-funded schools, can also been seen. Pages about the party's

standing committee and central committee are being developed. Soon, according to

party officials, viewers will be able to see the CPP version of "Premier plays

the China card", Hun Sen's "vision of neutral polls", and why Hun

Sen denies "the strongman epithet."

The CPP's move on-line is part of a broader plan to "adopt a new style of leadership",

share "the truth" about Hun Sen and recent Cambodian events, and foster

a friendlier, more modern image, say party officials.

"Everybody agrees that the [CPP's] image is so negative that we have to change

it if we want to continue to receive assistance programs, for instance," said

Ok Serei Sopheak, chief of cabinet to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng.

"After the clash of 5 and 6 July, we had very bad reporting from the international

media," said Khieu Kanharith, the Secretary of State for Information.

"One of the factors is that for more than a year Hun Sen showed us a tough person,

a very strong man and he overlikes to use violence. All these stereotyped images

are deeply [rooted] in most analysis of Cambodia. That's why... he has to change

this image," explained Kanharith.

"For years, the CPP suffered from bad publicity. By creating a website for CPP,

we hope that we can explain to the world, and in particular to people interested

in Cambodia, the background of the party and how it works.

"Many people accuse the CPP of being a communist party and Vietnamese puppet...

even a dictatorial party," said Kanharith. "We are [also] trying to overcome

this image by recruiting more young people and trying to have more contact with foreigners."

One of the website's designers, Siphan Phay, said part of the Second Prime Minister's

image problem was his blunt honesty. "What Hun Sen says is the truth. If you

compare him with Clinton or Eisenhower, Hun Sen is less secretive - he speaks the

truth and it is not to everybody's taste. As you know, the truth hurts...

"The media want him to be a giant, they want him to be a devil, but Hun Sen

is only a regular person," Phay attested.

The website, he said, aimed to clear the "confusion about the CPP" in the

world. "This is breakfast news to tell you what's going on in Cambodia... The

CPP wants to tell the world the truth... There are natural biases, but we will try

to give a more balanced view and positive thinking."

Denying that the website was propaganda, Phay said it was aimed at clearing the distorted

information put forward by others. "We want freedom of expression, and not freedom

of distortion."

In particular, he said, the CPP site was "not like another [party's] site...

not propaganda", an apparent reference to the Khmer Nation Party (KNP).

The KNP has had a much flashier spot on the Internet for some time: its subtleties

include bloody images of the March 30 grenade attack and the July fighting, and headlines

such as "Hun Sen is Pol Pot #2".

One piece of graphic artwork is a map of Cambodia with drops of blood and an AK47

superimposed over it, with the words: "The Killing Fields. Now playing in Cambodia.

Starring Hun Sen & CPP."

Another KNP showpiece depicts "Cambodia's Most Wanted", which features

a picture of Pol Pot, captioned "Brother No.1. Hiding in Anlong Veng."

Next to it is a cartoon of a one-eyed Hun Sen in Vietnamese military uniform, captioned:

"Saddam Hunsen. Often seen in Vietnam". Beneath Hun Sen and Pol Pot is

the old Khmer Rouge regime slogan "To keep you is no profit [gain]. To kill

you is no deficit [loss]."

Coincidentally, KNP leader Sam Rainsy said this week that he has no control over

the party website, which is produced by Cambodians abroad, and - like the CPP - he

thinks a softer image might be in order.

"I must check on how the KNP [website] expresses itself to make sure it follows

the line of my party... [and] convince them not to use such a harsh tone," said

Rainsy, who just returned to Cambodia from self-exile.

As with the KNP, the CPP's drive down the Information Superhighway was initially

conceived in the United States by Khmer-Americans. Work on the CPP site began in

Mountain View, northern California, before being continued in Cambodia, according

to officials.

Party leaders agreed the site should be launched from Cambodia, and in both Khmer

and English, though officials acknowledged that the main audience will be foreigners.

CPP leaders have given the website the thumbs up, said Prak Sarun Turner, a CPP central

committee member in charge of the project. "We have shown it to members of the

central committee and they were very happy."

Turner added that Hun Sen, for one, was already very familiar with the Internet.

"Hun Sen has Internet in his bedroom. He is in touch with the outside world,

you know," he said, without revealing whether Hun Sen keeps an eye on the KNP

home page.

While Hun Sen and the CPP reach out to the world, party officials acknowledged that

they also have image problems closer to home.

One senior party official said the CPP's support among Cambodians went into a free

fall after the March 30 attack on a KNP rally. "It's true that our popularity,

which was starting to increase, fell down drastically after that date."

Concerns over the party's unpopularity were confirmed in May when the CPP conducted

three unofficial surveys in the Hun Sen-stronghold of Kraingyov which showed a poor

level of support for the party, the official confirmed.

Even Khieu Kanharith, the Secretary of State for Information who has proven faithful

to Hun Sen, cautioned against linking the CPP's future too closely to the Second

Prime Minister. "Hun Sen is not unpopular in the provinces. In Phnom Penh, maybe

[he is unpopular] with some people, with students his popularity is not good, but

we hope that the CPP is not Hun Sen and Hun Sen is not the CPP."

But most important, as the new website aims to show, is that "CPP is down to

earth, close to the people," said Siphan Phay.

But don't take the word of the liberal media. See for yourself: http://www.cpp.com.kh.For

people abroad who want to comment on the website, fire off an email to: cppusa@rocketmail.com.

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