A quiet Funcinpec headquarters is pictured in Phnom Penh, May 28. Members of the once-influential royalist party are hoping to cash in on their movement’s unpopularity with voters by betting on how few Funcinpec leaders will be elected to parliament in the July elections.
In the run-up to July’s general elections, Funcinpec supporters are betting on the royalist party’s political demise – quite literally.
One high-ranking party punter has wagered $3,000 that his once-powerful political machine will fail to secure even one parliamentary seat.
His gambling partner, Funcinpec activist Chhun Saron, is giving the party slightly better odds, and stands to win a few thousand dollars even if the royalists lose all but one of their 26 seats in the National Assembly.
“If Funcinpec wins one or more seats in this election, I will win $3,000 from him,” Saron said of his high-profile opponent, who did not want to be named.
“Maybe he’s stupid,” Saron said. “But I am sure I will win. Funcinpec is certainly not the worst party in the election.”
Although unofficial gambling is illegal under Cambodian law, informal wagers among friends and colleagues are becoming a popular activity in the capital’s cafés as the election approaches.
At the Olympic café on Sihanouk Boulevard, friends of all political persuasions meet to discuss politics over coffee and fried noodles, and informal wagers – of either cash or beer – have become a common means of settling disagreements.
Eang Khun, a supporter of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and a group of friends have bet a group backing the opposition Sam Rainsy Party that the CPP will increase its share of National Assembly seats at the election.
If the CPP wins fewer than its current 73 seats, or the SRP more than 25, Khun’s group pledges to organize and pay for a lavish party for the entire group.
“No side will really lose in this game, because the winners and losers will all celebrate together at the party after the release of the election results,” Khun said.
Chan Pheakdie, who is rooting for the SRP, agrees that the bet is no more than a harmless game among friends.
“Even if we each support different parties, we are still Khmer and we will still remain friends,” he said.
At the Kirirom Café, 65-year-old bookie Phal is offering odds of almost two to one that either the Norodom Ranariddh Party – headed by Funcinpec’s ousted leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh – or civil society activist Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party will win seats in the National Assembly in July.
“If you bet that the NRP or HRP will win one seat or more, or if you bet that the NRP or HRP will not win any seats, and the result is correct, you win,” he said, noting that the two minor parties had so far attracted little interest from gamblers.
Khan Keomono, chief of the Public Information Bureau at the National Election Committee, said he was not aware of any election-related betting but warned backyard operators that their activities were illegal.
“The Election Law does not allow or disallow betting on the election,” he said. “But these actions are illegal in Cambodia.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap also agreed that such activities were illegal without the approval of the Council of Ministers, adding that he disapproved of party members betting against their own party.
“Anyone who bets that the CPP will lose seats is not a true CPP activist,” he said.
However, Lu Laysreng, first deputy president of Funcinpec, was unsurprised by reports that party rank-and-file were betting on the outcome of the election, and admitted the party was powerless to stop it.
“Our Cambodia is a gambling country,” he told the Post by phone on May 22. “People here will even bet on whether the rain will fall.”