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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Everyone thinks they're a winner in Kratie

Everyone thinks they're a winner in Kratie

Kratie is a sleepy town and an even quieter province. Sitting on the east bank of

the Mekong, its main claim to fame is the endangered Irra-waddy dolphins that live

nearby. But the politicians in Kratie have other concerns.

It is one of only three provinces where Funcinpec holds a majority of seats-it took

two of the province's three seats in 1993, and held them in 1998. The Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) has the third.

But the commune elections provided a rude awakening for the royalists, who took just

two of the 46 commune chief positions in the province. The CPP grabbed the rest.

Now the gloves are off. As Funcinpec tries to retain its seats, both the CPP and

the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) are looking to mop up disillusioned former

royalists.

"[Funcinpec] do not accept reality," says Chao Phally, the SRP's top candidate

in Kratie. "They think they are popular in this province, but they are not."

CPP provincial deputy, Kham Phoeun, agrees, saying people voted for Funcinpec twice,

but received no benefits for their trouble and will now head to the CPP.

Not so, says Funcinpec's Vorn Chhunly, who is also the provincial deputy governor.

In fact, he says, there has actually been a mass exodus of SRP supporters into his

party's fold.

"In Kratie, the popularity of Funcinpec has been increasing," he says.

"Almost all members of the SRP at local level have defected to Funcinpec."

Yet Funcinpec's Chhunly insists his party will get at least two seats. He says 30,000

people turned out to see party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh's speech, an indication

of the royalists' popularity.

The CPP counters that 25,000 people came out to its rally, while the SRP's Phally

says 9,000 people came out to see Rainsy in Kratie town, and 11,000 attended the

SRP's rural rally. The SRP is confident it can improve on 1998.

"I think we can win one and a half seats, but we are going to try and get two,"

says Phally.

One candidate attracting attention is 29-year-old Princess Norodom Rattana Devi,

daughter of the Funcinpec leader. She is Funcinpec's number one candidate in Kratie,

but the competition has been critical about her political credentials.

"She doesn't know the welfare of the people, she can't speak Khmer well, she

doesn't know traditions and behavior, and she probably doesn't know much about religion,"

says the SRP's Phally, who believes Funcinpec only put her up as a candidate to cash

in on the King's popularity.

The CPP admits it was initially worried about the Princess, as Kratie has a history

of being enamored with the Royal family. But Phoeun says concerns were quashed when

they observed her campaign strategy.

"She is the main competition," he says. "But when they came to campaign,

it turned out that they are just the same as the SRP: criticizing our party. She

just stood there-Ranariddh did the talking."

Funcinpec's Chhunly defends the Princess, and says communication problems are down

to her oratory technique.

"Some people say she can't speak Khmer," he says. "But actually when

she gives a speech, she has a very soft and beautiful voice."

Personal clashes aside, it is clear that all three parties cannot be right about

their chances, so the Post undertook an informal poll among 15 residents of Kratie

town. It showed support split between the CPP (seven) and the SRP (five). Three voiced

no preference.

"The CPP is the most popular party here. I have heard many people praising them,"

says 23-year-old guesthouse manager Theary. "The CPP is the only party I will

vote for ... Changing the leader is a waste of time."

But wine producer Proc disagrees. The SRP, he says, is the most popular party: "If

[the election] is free and fair, the SRP will win in Kratie."

Others, like hotel receptionist Phirum, are more worried about the pre-election environment.

"I feel very concerned as we approach election day," she says. "It

doesn't matter who wins, as long as they help to develop the country. I just want

peace, and peace forever."

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