CONFUSED about Cambodian politics? Not sure where to turn to for information, and
who to believe? Relax, help is at your fingertips: the CPP home page on the Internet.
"Welcome to the Cambodian People's Party Home Page. You've come to the right
place!" begins the introduction on the CPP's Internet website launched Dec 2,
the 19th anniversary of the party's founding.
"We realize that the political world can be brutal and very confusing,"
the CPP avows. "Here we hope to step above that and offer a clear, intelligent
view of Cambodia."
It goes on to state the goals of the home page, including (No.1) "to refute
liberalism and its allies in the media using the facts of the issues rather than
Five months after images of tanks rolling through Phnom Penh streets were beamed
around the globe, the CPP's foray into cyberspace is aimed at showing a softer face
to the world.
The website bears the customary passport-type photos of the CPP leadership - Heng
Samrin, Chea Sim and Hun Sen - in rigid poses. But there is also considerable effort
to portray Hun Sen, the Second Prime Minister and CPP vice-president, in a more casual
and gentle fashion.
"In the beginning it was difficult because they could not find any friendly-looking
pictures of Hun Sen," said a staffer at Lidee Khmer, an association of Khmer
students which offers Internet services in Phnom Penh, who was asked for advice about
But eventually something suitable was found; now, with a click on your computer mouse,
you can download snapshots of "Hun Sen and the people" - such as him sitting
on a woven mat with a group of elderly women villagers - and "Hun Sen and the
future", featuring a grinning Hun Sen clutching a laughing schoolgirl.
Another set of pictures shows Hun Sen the family man, arm-in-arm with his wife Bun
Rany, as well as photos of the Second Lady engaged in "humanitarian activities",
"social activities" and as an "environmental activist".
But it is politics - and particularly the events of July - which dominates the website.
It features a "News Stand" section - or "Newstance" as it said
when the Post accessed it this week - with articles explaining the pre-July, July,
and post-July crises.
One is an article by academic Michael Vickery - published in the Phnom Penh Post
- under the headline "The real story of Cambodia cries out to be told".
Pieces of text about the CPP political platform and bylaws, and pictures of the party
headquarters and CPP-funded schools, can also been seen. Pages about the party's
standing committee and central committee are being developed. Soon, according to
party officials, viewers will be able to see the CPP version of "Premier plays
the China card", Hun Sen's "vision of neutral polls", and why Hun
Sen denies "the strongman epithet."
The CPP's move on-line is part of a broader plan to "adopt a new style of leadership",
share "the truth" about Hun Sen and recent Cambodian events, and foster
a friendlier, more modern image, say party officials.
"Everybody agrees that the [CPP's] image is so negative that we have to change
it if we want to continue to receive assistance programs, for instance," said
Ok Serei Sopheak, chief of cabinet to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng.
"After the clash of 5 and 6 July, we had very bad reporting from the international
media," said Khieu Kanharith, the Secretary of State for Information.
"One of the factors is that for more than a year Hun Sen showed us a tough person,
a very strong man and he overlikes to use violence. All these stereotyped images
are deeply [rooted] in most analysis of Cambodia. That's why... he has to change
this image," explained Kanharith.
"For years, the CPP suffered from bad publicity. By creating a website for CPP,
we hope that we can explain to the world, and in particular to people interested
in Cambodia, the background of the party and how it works.
"Many people accuse the CPP of being a communist party and Vietnamese puppet...
even a dictatorial party," said Kanharith. "We are [also] trying to overcome
this image by recruiting more young people and trying to have more contact with foreigners."
One of the website's designers, Siphan Phay, said part of the Second Prime Minister's
image problem was his blunt honesty. "What Hun Sen says is the truth. If you
compare him with Clinton or Eisenhower, Hun Sen is less secretive - he speaks the
truth and it is not to everybody's taste. As you know, the truth hurts...
"The media want him to be a giant, they want him to be a devil, but Hun Sen
is only a regular person," Phay attested.
The website, he said, aimed to clear the "confusion about the CPP" in the
world. "This is breakfast news to tell you what's going on in Cambodia... The
CPP wants to tell the world the truth... There are natural biases, but we will try
to give a more balanced view and positive thinking."
Denying that the website was propaganda, Phay said it was aimed at clearing the distorted
information put forward by others. "We want freedom of expression, and not freedom
In particular, he said, the CPP site was "not like another [party's] site...
not propaganda", an apparent reference to the Khmer Nation Party (KNP).
The KNP has had a much flashier spot on the Internet for some time: its subtleties
include bloody images of the March 30 grenade attack and the July fighting, and headlines
such as "Hun Sen is Pol Pot #2".
One piece of graphic artwork is a map of Cambodia with drops of blood and an AK47
superimposed over it, with the words: "The Killing Fields. Now playing in Cambodia.
Starring Hun Sen & CPP."
Another KNP showpiece depicts "Cambodia's Most Wanted", which features
a picture of Pol Pot, captioned "Brother No.1. Hiding in Anlong Veng."
Next to it is a cartoon of a one-eyed Hun Sen in Vietnamese military uniform, captioned:
"Saddam Hunsen. Often seen in Vietnam". Beneath Hun Sen and Pol Pot is
the old Khmer Rouge regime slogan "To keep you is no profit [gain]. To kill
you is no deficit [loss]."
Coincidentally, KNP leader Sam Rainsy said this week that he has no control over
the party website, which is produced by Cambodians abroad, and - like the CPP - he
thinks a softer image might be in order.
"I must check on how the KNP [website] expresses itself to make sure it follows
the line of my party... [and] convince them not to use such a harsh tone," said
Rainsy, who just returned to Cambodia from self-exile.
As with the KNP, the CPP's drive down the Information Superhighway was initially
conceived in the United States by Khmer-Americans. Work on the CPP site began in
Mountain View, northern California, before being continued in Cambodia, according
Party leaders agreed the site should be launched from Cambodia, and in both Khmer
and English, though officials acknowledged that the main audience will be foreigners.
CPP leaders have given the website the thumbs up, said Prak Sarun Turner, a CPP central
committee member in charge of the project. "We have shown it to members of the
central committee and they were very happy."
Turner added that Hun Sen, for one, was already very familiar with the Internet.
"Hun Sen has Internet in his bedroom. He is in touch with the outside world,
you know," he said, without revealing whether Hun Sen keeps an eye on the KNP
While Hun Sen and the CPP reach out to the world, party officials acknowledged that
they also have image problems closer to home.
One senior party official said the CPP's support among Cambodians went into a free
fall after the March 30 attack on a KNP rally. "It's true that our popularity,
which was starting to increase, fell down drastically after that date."
Concerns over the party's unpopularity were confirmed in May when the CPP conducted
three unofficial surveys in the Hun Sen-stronghold of Kraingyov which showed a poor
level of support for the party, the official confirmed.
Even Khieu Kanharith, the Secretary of State for Information who has proven faithful
to Hun Sen, cautioned against linking the CPP's future too closely to the Second
Prime Minister. "Hun Sen is not unpopular in the provinces. In Phnom Penh, maybe
[he is unpopular] with some people, with students his popularity is not good, but
we hope that the CPP is not Hun Sen and Hun Sen is not the CPP."
But most important, as the new website aims to show, is that "CPP is down to
earth, close to the people," said Siphan Phay.
But don't take the word of the liberal media. See for yourself: http://www.cpp.com.kh.For
people abroad who want to comment on the website, fire off an email to: [email protected].