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Small parties scrambling to be heard

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Sou Butra (left), deputy secretary-general of the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, speaks to the Post. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Sou Butra (left), deputy secretary-general of the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, speaks to the Post. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

When resources for your commune election campaign consist of little more than a tuk-tuk, a few motorbikes and a lone megaphone blasting political messages, you can be forgiven for not having high hopes of victory.

Pessimism, however, is something the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP) has no place for – this small party has commune council seats to win in the capital’s Dangkor district this Sunday.

“We do not want a big campaign anyway – we don’t think it is all that important,” Sou Butra, the party’s deputy secretary-general says, standing outside a wooden hut that for most of the year is merely a humble home to one of his candidates.

The small group of people who surround Sou Butra are a combination of candidates and local children who have heard the sounds of a megaphone and rushed to see what is happening.

Prek Kampus commune, on the rural outskirts of Phnom Penh, is usually even quieter than this.

Today, a megaphone is tied to a homemade tractor that sits like an unused see-saw as political messages and catchy tunes blast out.

“We do only small campaigning, but we have clear policies to broadcast,” Sou Butra says.

Many pundits predict the Cambodian People’s Party will storm to victory in Sunday’s commune election, but for the KAPP, the party with the third-least candidates, winning the ballot at a local level is vitally important.

Victory could be a stepping stone to a bigger future for his party – a chance to graduate from also-ran to big player, Sou Butra says.

“I believe and hope my party will win in the commune election. We will then aim for the national election in 2013,” he says.

“We will reduce poverty, the civil servants will get a higher salary, and we will improve security for our people – we will bring a democracy like America’s to Cambodia.”

In the short term, it’s a chance to bring change to residents of Prek Kampus.

Nhem Savuth, one of the commune’s 10 candidates, says he chose the KAPP, which was founded in 2007, because he agrees with the policies it wants to bring to his CPP-controlled commune.

“I have never been in an election before . . . and I really want to serve the villagers,” he says.

But does he think he will beat the CPP?

“I expect 100 per cent that I will win, because there are many villagers who support me and also the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party,” he says.

Elsewhere in the country, candidates from small parties are facing similar battles.

Oeurn Sambath, the Republican Democracy Party candidate for the Bos Sbov commune in Banteay Meanchey province, is running for the first time.

His reasons for supporting the party are simple – it is led by a woman and he wants a woman to lead Cambodia.

The Republican Democracy Party, which lists some of its priorities as health, women and children’s issues and reducing poverty, has candidates in nine communes, the second-lowest of the 10 registered parties.

“I think I will win this election for my commune,” he says, adding he is standing for democracy, not himself.

Mao Moeung, the Democratic Movement Party candidate for Troap commune in Kampong Cham, is similarly motivated by altruism, he says.

“I think I will win because there are many villagers who are satisfied with our policies,” he says.

The Democratic Movement Party is fielding candidates in just one other commune.

“I go along the road and come to each house and give my policy to them,” he says.

Back in Prek Kampus commune, the KAPP candidates have also taken their show on the road.

It’s not an extravagant campaign trail they tread in their tuk-tuks and on their motos – it’s quite literally a bumpy road.

Anyone who travels it must be prepared for children, chickens and dogs to block their path.

Sou Butra says the KAPP has taken its message to more than 70 per cent of voters, but is determined to reach more.

One challenge seems to lie in winning trust – the kind that comes from familiarity.

Less than 50 metres from the party’s commune headquarters, Hak Srey Vich, 22, is selling vegetables in front of her house.

She tells the Post she has seen these candidates only once before and has little idea who they are or what they represent.

“What does Khmer Anti-Poverty Party mean? I have never heard of this party.

“I am not so interested in this party because it is new and it looks so small. And I cannot trust someone I’ve never known before,” she says.

Down the road, resident Ken Sokea also hasn’t heard of the KAPP.

“I know only two parties: Cambodian People’s Party and the Sam Rainsy Party,” he says.

The small cavalcade of about 12 KAPP candidates and supporters make regular stops as the sound of music draws people from their homes.

Candidates emerge from the tuk-tuk or get off their motorbikes and converse with villagers, even exchanging friendly banter with a Sam Rainsy Party rival.

Fairly soon, though, it’s back on board.

They’re determined to reach everyone – and tuk-tuks can only go so fast.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phonmpenhpost.com
Mom Kunthear at kunthear.mom@phnompenhpost.com

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