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View from the provinces: How the campaigns played out last week

This is part of our election blog. Read more here.

On Monday we reported from Kampong Cham, where Seang Chet - a former Sam Rainsy Party Commune Chief who was jailed last year after being swept up in authorities’ investigation of an alleged love affair between CNRP President Kem Sokha and a hairdresser - is hard at work campaigning.

However Chet’s name will not appear on the ballot on June 4th. Not eligible to run because his prison term prevented him from registering to vote, Chet has found a surrogate to run as a CNRP candidate in Srok commune: his wife, Sreng Sokhoeun.

Chet said he has made it clear to his constituents – if they agree with him, they should vote for Sokhoeun. “Even if my wife stays at home, they know they should vote for her,” he said. (Full story here.)

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Seang Chet uses a loudspeaker to announce the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s policies as his rally passes through Kampong Siem district. Ananth Baliga

On Tuesday we looked at a David-versus-Goliath style contest playing out in Siem Reap’s Sala Kamroeuk commune, where the youngest CNRP candidate, Chen Sokngeng, is going up against CPP old-timer Sam Lan. Sokngeng was just 11 years old when Lan, now 60, first took office.

Instead of shying away from discussing his age, the 26-year-old is confident he can use it as a tool to appeal to the commune’s younger voters.

“The youth are wishing for change. The public services for citizens are not transparent. So, the youth don’t want to see this. And the youth want me to bring new ideas, new development,” he said.

But Lan has proactively made his young opponent’s age a campaign issue, telling voters he won’t be able to handle the rigours of local administration.

“At 26 he is younger than my son. A person of 26 cannot even manage a family, so how can he lead a whole community?” he asked. (Full story here.)

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CNRP candidate Chen Sokngeng (left), 26, is mounting a challenge against three-time sitting CPP Commune Chief Sam Lan (right) in Siem Reap province’s Sala Kamroeuk commune. Ananth Baliga

In Battambang on Wednesday, we walked to court with O’Char commune chief candidate Sin Chan Pov Rozet, long considered a rising star of the CNRP.

The 31-year-old politician, who in 2012 became a second deputy commune chief after an upstart campaign, is one of a handful of opposition candidates who have found themselves swept up in court cases that they say are politically motivated.

With a crowd of more than 100 supporters in tow, and many more joining along the way, Chan Pov Rozet attended Battambang Provincial Court in response to a summons over a land dispute case. (Full story here.)

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Commune chief candidate Sin Chan Pov Rozet leads a walk back to O’Char commune after being questioned at Battambang Provincial Court. Ananth Baliga

On Thursday we examined the race closer to the capital in Svay Pak commune, where 47 CNRP activists made headlines this month by allegedly defecting to the ruling party. CPP officials revelled in the events, pointing to divisions within the party, while CNRP officials scrambled to deny that the defections ever took place. Such spectacles are not uncommon in Cambodia; so what causes them? Read our analysis here.

We also covered a rare public debate between Cambodian politicians, held between wannabe chiefs in Takeo province’s Trapeang Thom Khang Cheung commune, where a highly partisan crowd enthusiastically cheered their chosen candidates’ responses.

The CNRP candidate emphasised his party’s plan to give each commune $500,000 a year for development, while the CPP candidate said his party had “liberated the country and brought peace, freedom, democracy and development.” Audience responses were, unsurprisingly, mixed. (Full story here.)

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A side street leading to Phnom Penh’s Svay Pak commune, the site of recent defections, is flanked by a CPP billboard on one side and a CNRP billboard on the other. Andrew Nachemson

On Friday we reported from the border town of Poipet, where the CNRP is hoping to capitalise on discontent with poor infrastructure, protests by vendors who sell their wares in neighbouring Thailand, and political cases – such as that of Chao Veasna, a CNRP second deputy chief who has been in jail since February.

Months shy of commune elections, Veasna was arrested and promptly sent to pre-trial detention for allegedly inciting a 2015 riot. “I just want to ask – if I had made a mistake why didn’t they arrest me in 2015?” Veasna said over a prison phone. “When the election approached and they could not get support like me, is that when they put me in jail instead?”

Poipet recently made national headlines for a more absurd reason, when local union leader Mang Puthy was charged for allegedly hitting immigration police official Chhean Pisith with his car.

When a video clip of the alleged vehicular assault emerged, showing Puthy’s car moving almost imperceptibly when Pisith abruptly collapses to the ground in front of it, the official instantly became a national joke.

Puthy, who was at the time a CNRP official but has since quit, believes there is a swelling disquiet in Poipet that could see the main opposition party make bigger gains. (Full story here.)

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Motos bounce down a potholed commercial street in Poipet town, where the lack of good roads, along with a series of out of the ordinary political happenings, seems to be at the top of residents’ minds as commune elections approach. Ananth Baliga

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