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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - One issue they agree on

Young people ride motorbikes without helmets during a Cambodia National Rescue Party campaign rally in Phnom Penh
Young people ride motorbikes without helmets during a Cambodia National Rescue Party campaign rally in Phnom Penh. HONG MENEA

One issue they agree on

Divided the ruling and opposition parties stand on their visions for Cambodia, united they ride on another matter: flouting the Kingdom’s helmet laws during the election campaign.

In their quest to attract voters in the opening week of campaigning, hundreds of supporters and members of the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party have streamed – helmetless – through the streets on motorbikes. While spreading their message, they’ve mocked a law that can attract a fine and is designed to reduce the devastating number of fatalities on the Kingdom’s roads.

But police say they are powerless to intervene.

“If police strictly enforce the traffic law during campaigning, there will be lots of problems – conflict will occur,” Phnom Penh municipal police chief Choun Sovann told the Post yesterday. “We will be accused of obstructing or disturbing rallies.”

Also of concern and just as illegal, Sovann said, was bad driving from young party ring-ins, which many officers had complained about.

“Some people joining the rallies have been laughing at police. When we ask why they are breaking the law by driving the wrong direction down the street,” he said, “they respond: ‘We’re going the opposite way because we’re the opposition’.”

Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, said many of those rallying in the streets were of high school and university age, meaning some were not even eligible to vote.

“They have been driving motorbikes at night, disrupting traffic and public order,” he said. “I appeal for political parties to pay attention to this.”

In a statement signed by Governor Pa Socheatvong, Phnom Penh municipality also urged parties to control their campaigners and obey laws.

“Some motorbikes – driven by gangsters wearing political party T-shirts and caps – have been causing anarchy on the streets and provoking or causing violence with members of other parties,” the statement said.

CPP officials couldn’t be reached, but Ho Vann, a CNRP candidate for Phnom Penh, said the NEC was trying to interfere in campaigning, especially that being done by young people.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is young or old people rallying . . . In general, the NEC has not been fair. The main [campaigning] locations and public parks have been given to the ruling CPP,” he said.

As for conduct on the roads – including wearing helmets – Vann said it was up to the police to enforce the law.

Cambodian People’s Party supporters  ride motorbikes without helmets en route to a political rally on Preah Sihanouk Boulevard in Phnom Penh
Cambodian People’s Party supporters ride motorbikes without helmets en route to a political rally on Preah Sihanouk Boulevard in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

The Post spoke to a number of young CNRP and CPP supporters near the National Assembly yesterday. Some said they were passionate political supporters, while one CPP supporter, 19, said she had been paid $5 to come.

On average, five people die on Cambodia’s roads every day – a figure that has doubled in the past six years.

The law states that only a motorbike driver must wear a helmet, but an amendment to the traffic law – which is awaiting ministerial approval – will force passengers to also protect their heads.

Ear Chariya, the road safety manager at NGO Handicap International, said the law as it was written didn’t make exceptions. “I would encourage the parties to tell their supporters to wear helmets and respect the law,” he said.

“Around 70 per cent of people who die in road accidents are motorbike users.”

In a televised speech about three months ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen himself urged all Cambodians to wear helmets to protect their lives.

“Most traffic accidents are caused by motorbikes. I appeal to all people to wear helmets,” he said. “Any time, anywhere, you must wear helmets – both drivers and passengers.”

To one motodop sporting a brand-new CNRP cap in Phnom Penh this week, this message was of no concern.

Boastful, he pointed to the blue and gold logo that sat in place of a helmet on his head.

“Are you voting CNRP?” a reporter asked.

“Free,” he replied. Whether he was referring to the hat being a gift or the CNRP’s vision for the country remained unclear.

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