Cambodia's three largest political parties will stake their claim for a share in
the Kingdom's 1,621 commune councils when voters go to the polls February 3. Given
the parties' election strategies, however, it seems unlikely this will be a strictly
For the CPP and its coalition partner Funcinpec, enemy number one remains the Sam
Rainsy Party (SRP). The SRP has decided its best chance lies in nibbling away at
the vote bank of the royalist Funcinpec.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec, acknowledged as much when he told
his party faithful to stop the SRP doing so "at any cost". Neither party
seems prepared to take on the dominant CPP. The parties' messages to their supporters
are to steer clear of the CPP, but make vigorous efforts to wrest voters from each
Speaking to the Post December 25, SRP president Sam Rainsy said his party's focus
was not to take on the CPP but to focus on Funcinpec whose supporters, he claimed,
had lost confidence in their leaders. Although Funcinpec candidates and supporters
were also victims of violence and intimidation, said Rainsy, they felt Funcinpec
was not doing enough to protect them.
In support of that, Rainsy claimed that a village chief from an unspecified part
of the country had defected recently from Funcinpec to the SRP along with a dozen
families. Many other traditional Funcinpec supporters, he said, now supported his
"Realistically speaking, we should be able to install our commune chiefs at
least in 20 percent of the communes, though we can reasonably expect a lead in one
third, depending on the final [swing]," Rainsy said. He added that the SRP,
unlike its opponents, could neither afford to give nor wanted to give presents or
donations to win votes. Instead, he said, it promised life with dignity.
Ranariddh, son of King Norodom Sihanouk, acknowledged the SRP was eroding his party's
voter base. Addressing Funcinpec commune council candidates and government officials
from Kandal province in December, Ranariddh said the SRP won its 15 National Assembly
seats in the 1998 election because of a shift in loyalties by his party's voters.
Referring to the SRP's symbol of a burning candle, Ranariddh issued some cautionary
words: "The candle light can burn us and cut down the number of our supporters
when we are weak."
He later claimed Funcinpec could win half the commune council seats, and hoped that
the image of the monarchy would still play into his party's hands. The King remains
a potent political symbol, particularly among the rural poor.
"[We] will use the monarchy and the popular image of King Norodom Sihanouk to
defeat [our opponents]" he said.
In public statements during December, both the CPP and Funcinpec said they wanted
to strengthen their relationship in the run-up to the general elections in 2003.
Ranariddh told his supporters that cooperation with the CPP was a very important
part of providing safety to royalist supporters, as well as being in the interests
of the party and peace.
"Don't be tough on the CPP candidates," he said. "From commune elections
to national elections, cooperation [with the CPP] has to be maintained smoothly."
"My strategy is to strengthen the internal confidence in the party, to retain
existing supporters and try to bring back those who [left the party], so that our
victory is easy," said Ranariddh referring to the split within Funcinpec that
saw four parties, including the SRP, contest the 1998 national election.
Funcinpec has decided to boost support by mobilizing its party workers and sending
them to the provinces to campaign on its behalf. The SRP, by contrast, will highlight
what it calls the failures of the CPP-Funcinpec coalition in solving corruption and
For its part the CPP refused to share any details of its party strategy. However,
one CPP lawmaker said the party wanted to make the most of public sentiment associated
with January 7, celebrated as Victory Day over the Khmer Rouge regime.
"This is the day of the second birth [for Cambodians]," he said. "It
is the most important day to remind people that it was the CPP that rescued them
from the genocide."
At the annual party plenum that ended December 19, CPP president Chea Sim said his
party concentrated on strengthening cooperation with Funcinpec in the elections by
respecting "the spirit of the agreement" between the two. A party member
said later the contest was with the SRP alone.
A pro-CPP Khmer language newspaper reported the party had asked those party agents
appointed to monitor the commune elections to learn from the 1993 and 1998 elections.
It said they should gather evidence and witnesses if they encountered irregularities
and lodge complaints with the local election committee.
"The preparation of legal argument is very important [in presenting your case],"
said an official.
All three parties will use the commune election as a dress rehearsal for the 2003
general election. In 1998 the CPP improved its national tally from 51 seats in 1993
elections to 64, while Funcinpec's share dropped from 58 to 43. The SRP claimed 15
seats in the 122 member National Assembly.