Since the sub-national councillor election campaign kicked off on May 2, leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party have embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Kingdom, drawing large crowds that will come nowhere near a polling booth this Sunday.
According to observers though, that’s beside the point.
The election is non-universal and the more than 11,000 sitting commune councillors that are eligible to vote for provincial, district and municipal councils are expected to do so along party lines.
However, Koul Panha, director of elections watchdog Comfrel, said that the opposition was looking well beyond Sunday’s election with its feverish campaign.
“Beyond that, it’s more [about] countering the [Cambodian People’s Party] government and the CPP parliament. It’s more of a CNRP political statement regarding the CPP, and they [are trying] to warm up their supporters to be more aware about the current situation,” he said.
The opposition also hopes that its throngs of supporters – the party has called on 20,000 to take part in a planned final campaign march through Phnom Penh on Friday – might help lure ruling party commune councillors to their side.
According to Ou Chanrith, a lawmaker-elect in Kandal province, the CNRP wants to show the country that after more than half a year of political deadlock, the opposition still has serious “momentum”.
“[This] election, we know who is going to vote for who, but at least [with the campaign] . . . the CPP councillors might consider voting for us, because we show that there is so much support for the CNRP.
“[The councillors] might see that soon the CNRP will run the country, so they might decide they don’t want to stay with the CPP anymore. They lose hope.”
At the last election in 2009, the ruling CPP kicked off its election campaign with a thousands-strong march through the capital.
This time, however, they have been near absent from the public eye, and have reportedly focused instead on targeting their nearly 8,300 councillors directly.
“In 2009, the CPP conducted a large campaign. But this time, because the CPP government has tried to ban freedom of assembly . . . they just follow government policy,” Panha, of Comfrel, said.
But the CPP is “very, very concerned” about councillors crossing party lines, he added.
“In April, the CPP tried to pay money to [their] councillors. That’s the first time that ever happened before. Before, they paid to other [parties’] commune councillors [to get them to switch],” he said.
“This didn’t happen during the election campaign, because [then it would be considered] like vote buying [under the election law]. [So] they paid during Khmer New year.”
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap yesterday did not deny that his party had made financial contributions to commune councillors during the holiday period ahead of the campaign.
“It is normal of the CPP, which always contributes some money to some of our members. It is the right of the CPP and there is no problem,” he said, adding that his party had no fear its councillors would vote for the opposition on Sunday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG