Election campaigning yesterday hit the dusty streets of border town Poipet, in the Kingdom’s northwest, bringing with it allegations of bribery, a motorcade of thousands and questions over the opposition’s whereabouts.
Marking the beginning of the 2013 election campaign, some 5,000 Cambodian People’s Party members and supporters surged through the streets, aboard cars, trucks, motorbikes and tuk-tuks, waving flags, spouting policy and playing propaganda songs.
“This is the biggest start to election campaigning in Banteay Meanchey province in a very long time,” provincial election committee director Hy Kimsang said.
The supporters’ cheers and cries were passionate, but not everyone who joined the parade yesterday was a loyal CPP supporter, motodop Ou Sal Uttom said.
“The party gave me breakfast and two litres of petrol to come here and travel with them. I used to be a Sam Rainsy Party activist,” he said, without revealing which party he intended to vote for on July 28.
“Many people have turned up today, but the support you see here for the CPP is not genuine. Come election day, many people will change.”
Poipet commune councillor and ruling party member Va Chum Nareth, however, denied anyone had been paid or given gifts to attend.
“The people who have joined our parade are volunteers. From my commune alone, 1,500 said before the parade that they wanted to come – even more have turned up,” he said. “We did not provide anything to them. They’re happy to join for free.”
Either way, Kimsang, the provincial election director, said, many more were marching for the ruling party than the opposition.
“It’s only the CPP marching through the streets today. The Cambodia National Rescue Party and Funcinpec have gathered at their party offices to share policy ideas and broadcast recordings to members and supporters,” he said.
It was perhaps no surprise then that Kimsang had heard no reports of clashes between the ruling and opposition parties. “But if my staff members see any problems, they will report them to the NEC.”
CNRP and Funcinpec supporters weren’t the only ones absent from the streets of Poipet yesterday – those in the CPP cavalcade, on many parts of the journey, outnumbered onlookers.
In the past decade, the ruling party has tightened its grip on Banteay Meanchey province, suggesting more onlookers would have taken an interest in yesterday’s CPP spectacle.
As it was, many of those caught up in the parade were street vendors and others going about their work.
And not everyone welcomed the distraction.
“I don’t care about political campaigns,” said Veng Chan, who pulls carts of luggage for cross-border travellers.
“I need food to survive first. After that, only then would I consider thinking about an election.”
Other workers transporting everything from clothes to rubbish weaved around the motorcade, refusing to even stop and look, while some vendors complained about business being interrupted.
Fifteen minutes after the parade moved on, political party signs that extended up from the roadside into the dusty air were only the reminders left that an election was coming.
Fruit seller Kong Sokunthea said she enjoyed the spectacle but felt it had affected business as she believed crowds had deliberately stayed away.
“I want to see this, but it’s affected my business today,” she said as the dust began to settle. “Fewer people have been here to buy my fruit.”
But for the next month it is something she might have to get used to.