WHEN the Cambodia National Rescue Party geared up for this election campaign, it was determined its priority would be policy, but the exploits of both major parties in recent weeks have seen public focus shift far from the finer details of governance.
“Change or not change?” has been a familiar chant during CNRP rallies in the first two weeks of campaigning.
The answer has always been “change” – but not everyone the Post spoke to yesterday knew exactly what change would await them if the CNRP swept to power.
“I don’t [know] the party’s policies,” said one student who rallied near the National Assembly yesterday. “I haven’t listened to what the policies are.”
A short distance away, at a CPP rally in Wat Botum park, campaigners were saying similar things about their party.
“I don’t understand what the CPP’s policies are; I came here because I love Samdech Hun Sen,” a young female university student said.
A 20-year-old man, sitting nearby, said he also didn’t understand what the CPP would offer if it won.
“I don’t know anything about their policies,” he said. “I’ve heard what they’re saying on the microphones, but I don’t understand the meaning.”
A young woman’s voice blaring from a PA nearby told passersby that a vote for the CPP was a vote to “support Samdech Hun Sen as prime minister”.
The CPP, she added, would deliver roads and bridges, guarantee sovereignty and stability, and eliminate corruption. Policy from the major parties hasn’t been much more detailed than that, commentators have said.
In a recent opinion piece published in the Post, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said there appeared to be “a near complete blackout on policy discussion”.
“[People] want to hear what a future government will do about the current land crisis, how it will tackle corruption, how it will strengthen the rule of law,” he said.
The “soap opera” surrounding Cambodia National Rescue Party acting leader Kem Sokha hadn’t helped, he said.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy’s declaration over the weekend that he would return to Cambodia despite facing jail has now thrown policy further out of the limelight.
Officials from the CPP couldn’t be reached yesterday, but CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that his party had been spreading its policies far and wide, despite distractions such as the allegations against Sokha and the possible return of Sam Rainsy.
“We’ve been getting the same messages out,” he said. “It’s the same seven points.”
Those seven points were outlined in December, when CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay told the Post the party was seeking to focus more on everyday issues such as education, healthcare, wages, agriculture and pension schemes to provide Cambodians a genuine alternative.
“We are transforming from just being the opposition; we are becoming a realistic choice for government,” he said.
Besides wages, however, those issues have received little coverage in the media.
But the CNRP had since been focusing on door-to-door campaigns and handing out pamphlets to ensure its policies were known to people, Sovann said. “We write [the policy] short because it’s easier for people to understand.
“When we have rallies, we explain it in more detail.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that policy had recently begun finding its way to the surface.
“There actually seems to be more politics,” he said. “Last night during a televised campaign, the CPP focused on industrial development [and] education. The government’s learned, I think, that personal attacks have been counter-productive. The Kem Sokha stuff has drawn him more sympathy.”
When compared to previous national elections, Mong Hay said, this campaign was far more open and peaceful, and therefore more conducive to people getting involved.
“All parties have been able to campaign. There’s been nothing off limits. And there’s been much less violence,” he said.
As a result, the CNRP had been able to develop a “mass movement for change”, even if its policy hadn’t exactly been overt. From this point on, policies would come into play more, Mong Hay said.
But ultimately, he added, one thing – a personality – could again render them irrelevant: the return of Sam Rainsy.
“We have to think about this. It could get out of control.”