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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - How the Big Three political parties stack up

How the Big Three political parties stack up

Cambodia's three largest political parties will stake their claim for a share in

the Kingdom's 1,621 commune councils when voters go to the polls February 3. Given

the parties' election strategies, however, it seems unlikely this will be a strictly

triangular contest.

For the CPP and its coalition partner Funcinpec, enemy number one remains the Sam

Rainsy Party (SRP). The SRP has decided its best chance lies in nibbling away at

the vote bank of the royalist Funcinpec.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec, acknowledged as much when he told

his party faithful to stop the SRP doing so "at any cost". Neither party

seems prepared to take on the dominant CPP. The parties' messages to their supporters

are to steer clear of the CPP, but make vigorous efforts to wrest voters from each

other.

Speaking to the Post December 25, SRP president Sam Rainsy said his party's focus

was not to take on the CPP but to focus on Funcinpec whose supporters, he claimed,

had lost confidence in their leaders. Although Funcinpec candidates and supporters

were also victims of violence and intimidation, said Rainsy, they felt Funcinpec

was not doing enough to protect them.

In support of that, Rainsy claimed that a village chief from an unspecified part

of the country had defected recently from Funcinpec to the SRP along with a dozen

families. Many other traditional Funcinpec supporters, he said, now supported his

party.

"Realistically speaking, we should be able to install our commune chiefs at

least in 20 percent of the communes, though we can reasonably expect a lead in one

third, depending on the final [swing]," Rainsy said. He added that the SRP,

unlike its opponents, could neither afford to give nor wanted to give presents or

donations to win votes. Instead, he said, it promised life with dignity.

Ranariddh, son of King Norodom Sihanouk, acknowledged the SRP was eroding his party's

voter base. Addressing Funcinpec commune council candidates and government officials

from Kandal province in December, Ranariddh said the SRP won its 15 National Assembly

seats in the 1998 election because of a shift in loyalties by his party's voters.

Referring to the SRP's symbol of a burning candle, Ranariddh issued some cautionary

words: "The candle light can burn us and cut down the number of our supporters

when we are weak."

He later claimed Funcinpec could win half the commune council seats, and hoped that

the image of the monarchy would still play into his party's hands. The King remains

a potent political symbol, particularly among the rural poor.

"[We] will use the monarchy and the popular image of King Norodom Sihanouk to

defeat [our opponents]" he said.

In public statements during December, both the CPP and Funcinpec said they wanted

to strengthen their relationship in the run-up to the general elections in 2003.

Ranariddh told his supporters that cooperation with the CPP was a very important

part of providing safety to royalist supporters, as well as being in the interests

of the party and peace.

"Don't be tough on the CPP candidates," he said. "From commune elections

to national elections, cooperation [with the CPP] has to be maintained smoothly."

"My strategy is to strengthen the internal confidence in the party, to retain

existing supporters and try to bring back those who [left the party], so that our

victory is easy," said Ranariddh referring to the split within Funcinpec that

saw four parties, including the SRP, contest the 1998 national election.

Funcinpec has decided to boost support by mobilizing its party workers and sending

them to the provinces to campaign on its behalf. The SRP, by contrast, will highlight

what it calls the failures of the CPP-Funcinpec coalition in solving corruption and

poverty.

For its part the CPP refused to share any details of its party strategy. However,

one CPP lawmaker said the party wanted to make the most of public sentiment associated

with January 7, celebrated as Victory Day over the Khmer Rouge regime.

"This is the day of the second birth [for Cambodians]," he said. "It

is the most important day to remind people that it was the CPP that rescued them

from the genocide."

At the annual party plenum that ended December 19, CPP president Chea Sim said his

party concentrated on strengthening cooperation with Funcinpec in the elections by

respecting "the spirit of the agreement" between the two. A party member

said later the contest was with the SRP alone.

A pro-CPP Khmer language newspaper reported the party had asked those party agents

appointed to monitor the commune elections to learn from the 1993 and 1998 elections.

It said they should gather evidence and witnesses if they encountered irregularities

and lodge complaints with the local election committee.

"The preparation of legal argument is very important [in presenting your case],"

said an official.

All three parties will use the commune election as a dress rehearsal for the 2003

general election. In 1998 the CPP improved its national tally from 51 seats in 1993

elections to 64, while Funcinpec's share dropped from 58 to 43. The SRP claimed 15

seats in the 122 member National Assembly.

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