A CAMBODIAN NGO linked to political rebel Sam Rainsy has entered the controversial
domain of public opinion polls, producing a survey that judged Rainsy the most popular
politician in the land.
Sok Vann Khema, president of the Solidarity and Community Development Association
(SODECO), defended the survey's accuracy but acknowledged some people would see it
Khema confirmed that computers at Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party were used to collate
the poll results, but he said KNP staff had nothing to do with the actual interviewing.
"Reality is reality," he said of the survey's finding that 43 percent of
those poll respondents who were willing to express an opinion picked Rainsy as the
best person to lead Cambodia.
"People who lose will inevitably point fingers," Khema said. "But
if those who have a low percentage are unhappy, why don't they conduct their own
He noted that earlier polls by the Khmer Journalists Association (KJA) also found
Rainsy to be most popular.
"So can we say that the KJA is biased toward Sam Rainsy?," he said. "It
is only good for Cambodia that we know the realities of the population and whether
people's desires are being met by government policies."
He maintained that SODECO's poll was as scientific as possible, organized with the
help of two Khmer statisticians trained at Paris University. The pair worked for
the government and could not be identified, he said.
The pollsters were SODECO volunteers, including students and police and military
staff, he said.
SODECO is an NGO, started last year, whose work has included building or repairing
irrigation systems and schools in several provinces. Sam Rainsy has inaugurated some
of its completed projects.
Khema said there was no "legal connection" between SODECO and Rainsy. The
NGO's members came from various political parties, although "most would espouse
democracy more than any other ideology."
Rainsy echoed Khema's comments, saying that anyone unhappy with the poll should run
"Whatever organization does it, I don't care," said Rainsy. "I am
interested in encouraging other organizations to conduct their own polls.
"Let them [the polls] be challenged. Let those who challenge them push for other
organizations to conduct polls.
"There are so many issues to ask people about. In managing public affairs in
any country, you need to take into account the opinions of the people.
"In Cambodia, the normal ways of expressing opinions are not tolerated. I think
opinion polls are a fair and non-dangerous way to let people express themselves."
KJA president Pin Samkhon said his organization had stopped running opinion polls
because of lack of funding, but noted that its surveys had upset some political parties.
"I have had warnings from some people... who don't want me to run opinion polls.
But I think they are not right because every political party of a free country needs
to know what the people think of them."
The KJA had run four polls, he said, all of which found Rainsy to be the most popular
politician - averaging about 20 percent support, considerably less than the SODECO
Of the SODECO poll, Samkhon said some people wanted to know whether the NGO "is
very close to Sam Rainsy. It's a question of neutrality."
But he believed such surveys were important, and politicians should not fear them,
in order to create a healthy "climate of discussion about politics."
The SODECO poll, according to a statement issued by Khema, was held July 20-23 in
Phnom Penh and five provinces. A total of 1359 people were asked to name the politician
they most "trusted and liked" and considered best qualified to lead Cambodia.
Ten percent of those interviewed said they had no opinion. Of the rest, 585 (43 percent)
nominated Rainsy, 183 (13.5 percent) chose Hun Sen, 150 (11 percent) Prince Norodom
Ranariddh, 123 (9.1 percent) Prince Norodom Sirivudh and 90 (6.6 percent) picked
Khmer Rouge nominal leader Khieu Samphan. The remaining votes were split between
Son Sann, Chea Sim and Sar Kheng.
Measured in terms of the occupations of respondents, Rainsy had most support from
policemen and soldiers, according to the survey authors. He also polled well among
students, cyclo and moto drivers and civil servants.
Hun Sen ranked best among traders, factory workers, civil servants and farmers, and
Ranariddh among factory workers, farmers and housewives.
Of the 90 people who chose Khieu Samphan, 15 were cyclo or moto drivers, 13 were
students and the rest were spread across various occupations.
Respondents were also asked to rate their confidence in Cambodia's future: most (69.2
percent) were either "very optimistic" or "fairly optimistic".
On whether there would be free and fair elections in 1998, 25 percent said definitely
yes and 29.5 percent believed there was a reasonable chance. Nineteen percent doubted
there would be, 11.4 percent said there definitely wouldn't be, and 15.1 percent
had no opinion.