The campaign period drew to a peaceful close on May 19-just four days before the
voters were to begin casting their ballots to chose Cambodia's future government
after two decades of war.
Out of the 20 political parties, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the Sihanoukist
FUNCINPEC, have been the most active attracting thousands of people to their rallies.
Both are trying to win an absolute majority in order to have a chance of forming
the new government and also to have the dominant say in the drafting of the new constitution.
In its campaign programs the State of Cambodia (SOC) has been exploiting the defection
of FUNCINPEC generals to attack Prince Ranariddh, who they claim has close ties with
the Khmer Rouge (KR).
"I am very disappointed that I let myself be cheated by the disreputable acts
of Prince Ranariddh...I am very sorry for the death of our compatriots in recent
attacks by the Khmer Rouge and FUNCINPEC. I apologize," State of Cambodia Prime
Minister Hun Sen said during his rallies in Tbong Khmum, which were broadcast on
government-run TV on May 12.
Hun Sen repeatedly charged that victory by either FUNCINPEC or the Buddhist Liberal
Democratic Party (BLDP) in the elections would open the door for the Khmer Rouge
to renew their genocidal policies in Cambodia. He pledged his Cambodian People's
Party would do everything to prevent the Khmer Rouge from returning to power again
if the party is victorious.
In response, FUNCINPEC's president Prince Norodom Ranariddh categorically rejected
the allegation by saying that it was equally directed against his father Prince Norodom
Sihanouk, who founded this party.
"How come we are accused of being the Khmer Rouge? We have big trouble with
them in our zones," he disappointedly told reporters during a campaign stop
in Prey Veng provincial town.
There, under a sizzling sun in the morning FUNCINPEC supporters were treated to a
modified basac performance before the start of the prince's speech. The play followed
the story of a hero who returns to his country to get find an evil spirit in power
-a thinly -veiled reference to Vietnamese.
"You're trying to draw us into a war, aren't you? O.K. Do not blame us for being
racist. But, if you want to be alive, get out of our land quickly," the hero
warned his enemy.
The audience broke into cheers and applause at the end of the play as the hero defeated
the evil spirit who consistently refused to leave Cambodia.
A crowd of around 5,000 supporters impatiently waited for the arrival of Ranariddh.
As soon as the U.N. helicopter with the prince on board could be seen, the crowd
stood up brandishing the party's logos and yelled out "cheiyo! cheiyo! cheiyo!"
"We will win, we will win," Sok Yun, a 60-year-old woman, shouted as the
chopper prepared to land. Another young woman was so excited she burst into tears
when she touched the prince's hands.
The vocal crowd said they had only reached the rally after taking great risks. Some
said they had come via the paddy fields rather than taking the main roads where they
could have been barred by SOC police from attending the FUNCINPEC rally.
"I came here to show my support for Prince Ranariddh, because he has the ability
to restore peace and rule the country. I don't like Hun Sen because his regime is
not clean," Tung Seng, a farmer, said.
At the age of 87, Neo Sophal is still strong enough to push her way through the crowd
to get a close-up look at Prince Ranariddh. She was squeezed in among the front-row
supporters when she began voicing her prayer, for the prince "Let God bless
your Highness". While chewing betel leaves with tobacco she added enthusiastically:
"I love him. He looks like his father."
"His father is our father because he has always taken care of us," she
said. "I don't want anything from him, just peace and prosperity," she
Mao, 50, who attended the rallies complained that she never had enough rice to feed
her family during the 14-year-rule of the Phnom Penh regime.
"I will vote for FUNCINPEC because it's the only party capable of finding justice
for us," she said.
Ranariddh opened his address by saying: "We are fed up with war." Asking
his sympathizers who they would vote for if they wanted peace, they simultaneously
yelled 'FUNCINPEC'. If you vote for FUNCINPEC, who do you vote for? The crowd responded
'Samdech Euv' or [King-Father]-as Cambodians used to refer to Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
The issues of corruption among SOC officials and Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia
were the focus of Ranariddh's attack on the Phnom Penh regime.
"We are not racists. We must take back our territory given to foreigners. We
will resolve the problem of corruption and selling off of the government assets,"
he told the crowd.
The crowd shouted 'no' in response to Ranariddh's question as to whether they wanted
the foreigners [Vietnamese] to return to Cambodia.
During the one-hour-long speech, he also strongly criticized the downfall of the
communist system following the collapse of the former Soviet Union and its allies
in eastern Europe. However, he appeared not to dare to direct his criticism against
China and North Korea-the countries, where his father Prince Sihanouk has taken shelter
during his 20 years of exile.
"All countries that choose communism, their economies must fall apart,"
He said if FUNCINPEC won, he would hand unanimous power to Prince Sihanouk-the nominal
head of state and president of the country's Supreme National Council (SNC)-enabling
him to launch his second crusade for the sake of national reconciliation and bring
peace to Cambodia.
Ranariddh said "I will get my father back. He could run the country. If he wants
to reunite all the Cambodians, it's up to him." He said he firmly believes that
his party would win and that if he could achieve this goal the Khmer Rouge would
not be able to not find any pretexts to resist the government that emerges from the
"It will be a government of the Cambodian people. I will thank them, but not
the Vietnamese," he said. "If the Khmer Rouge fight us, it means they fight
the people who support us...So, please tell Mr. Pol Pot 'be wise'," he added.
SOC has complained that FUNCINPEC has violated UNTAC's electoral law which prohibits
political parties from using logos with Sihanouk's portrait for the campaign rallies.
But, Ranariddh has distributed T-shirts with his father's picture in an attempt to
remind them of how prosperous their life was under Sihanouk's regime.
"Then it was much different as people could walk or talk without any fear. With
SOC we must always be careful," said 50-year-old Im. She and her two sons came
from Phnum Srang-about 35 km from the central town of Kompong Speu province to join
a Ranariddh rally held in the provincial town on May 12. She said that the local
authorities had threatened to confiscate her farm land if she came to the rally.
"I love the prince because his morality is higher than Hun Sen's, and he can
influence the people," she said.
Some of the younger generation also hope that peace can be restored if the Vietnamese
installed government is defeated in the elections.
Khai Sarin, 24, along with his friends who were at the rally, said "I and my
friends support FUNCINPEC because we want peace and our territory back."
"If SOC wins, Yuon [Vietnamese]will flow into my country and Hun Sen will take
the people to K-5 again," he said, referring to the nationwide tree-felling
campaign launched by SOC in the mid-1980s which left many Cambodians dead or disabled
because of mines and disease.
"The fighting will never come to an end if SOC continues to battle against the
Khmer Rouge," he warned.