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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Now enter the minnows

Now enter the minnows

The nation's smaller political parties are facing an uphill battle. Often scratching

for just a single seat in the National Assembly, they have encountered problems of

media access and funding.

Intimidation by larger parties and charges of favoritism by the National Election

Committee (NEC) have also marred the early stretch of the campaign period. But most

agree this year's campaign is more fair than both the 1998 general election and last

year's commune elections.

Uk Phourik, president of the Khmer Democratic Party, said his party, which he claimed

was the fourth largest, was happy with the amount of media coverage, but would like

more: "It is still not enough, but we accept it. It is much better than in 1998."

But not everyone agrees. Khlok Prithi, president of the Molinaka-Khmer Freedom Fighters

Party, said the media was covering only the large parties.

That is not strictly true-each party, large and small, has a free twice-daily five

minute slot on state-owned TV and radio during the course of the campaign.

What is true is that the three largest parties garner the lion's share of news coverage.

But smaller players can buy time on privately-owned stations, a measure that is mostly

out of reach.

A minute of radio time can cost five dollars, said the Rice Party's Chea Ratha, which

is too expensive for it. An NEC media advisor said private TV stations had yet to

tell the NEC how much one minute of time would cost.

As for intimidation, most of the seven smaller parties that the Post spoke to reported

low-level efforts, but none noted physical violence.

The Khmer Unity Party (KUP) said three party activists, all teachers, were threatened

not to campaign. Bou Sa Rin of the KUP said the headmasters of all three were members

of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). The KUP appealed to the NEC for help,

but does not expect much: "The NEC is just a tool of the CPP," he said.

The CPP was not the only party to have charges levied against it. Chea Ratha said

that activists from the Sam Rainsy Party had warned members of the Rice Party against

campaigning in a Kampong Cham market.

"Sam Rainsy says that he is the democracy protector. In fact, he is the democracy

destroyer," Chea Ratha complained.

And then there is the problem of cash: most small parties cannot spend money on the

trucks seen carrying CPP, Funcinpec and SRP supporters. Instead they rely on house-to-house

campaigning and handing out leaflets at markets.

The lack of cash was obvious from the KUP's Bou Sa Rin. As he sat down for an interview

at party headquarters on Russian Blvd., a CPP truck drove by, blaring music and filled

with supporters.

"But no matter how many trucks they have, the people know which parties are

good and which are bad," he said optimistically.

The general-secretary of the Khmer Angkor Party, Reach-Chan Sovan, said his supporters

were "just doing what we can", which amounts to leafleting.

The lack of cash also means the smaller players are unable to campaign nationally.

Most are campaigning in Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Kandal and Battambang-well-populated

areas with numerous seats.

But they still need to make themselves stand out from the 22-strong field. Along

with many others, the Khmer Citizens' Party (KCP) said it would ensure the integrity

of the nation's borders. But unlike the rest, the KCP claimed it had documentation

to prove in the World Court that territory in Thailand and Vietnam belongs to Cambodia.

But the best political message goes to the Cambodia Development Party (CDP). In a

country where 85 percent of the people live in rural areas, the CDP's president,

Mao Bora, has a vote-puller: "I will buy animals and good rice for the people

to improve their livelihoods if I win."

And although none of the small players has yet any representation in the National

Assembly, they are confident of their chances. Most would be happy with a single

seat in the new body.

But some have grander ambitions: the Rice Party is looking at taking ten seats. And

the CDP's Mao Bora said he thinks he too can get ten seats, "because I know

a lot of people in the provinces".

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