The first day of campaigning for the national elections set for July 29 kicked off on Saturday with 11 political parties holding rallies across the Kingdom.
The National Election Committee (NEC) concluded on Saturday night that campaigning was running “smoothly” as the election process moved into full swing with the absence of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The CNRP was dissolved in November by the Supreme Court, following a complaint by the Ministry of Interior that it was attempting to overthrow the government through a colour revolution aided by the US.
Its former president, Kem Sokha, is in detention and on trial for treason.
The NEC said 11 of the 20 parties that registered for the polls held rallies on Saturday.
They included the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Funcinpec, the Khmer National United Party (KNUP) and the League for Democracy Party (LDP).
The others were the Khmer Will Party (KWP), the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), the Cambodian Nationality Party (CNP), the Beehive Social Democratic Party (BSDP), the Republican Democracy Party (RDP), the Cambodian Youth Party (CYP) and the Dharmacracy Party (DP).
While tens of thousands of party supporters paraded through the streets of Phnom Penh on Saturday, the scale of events was far smaller the following day, with just a number of vehicles seen driving around and playing recorded campaign slogans on loudspeakers.
The CPP campaigned on Saturday in 25 municipalities and provinces, with Prime Minister Hun Sen leading a huge rally on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island. It was attended by more than 60,000 party members and supporters.
In his rallying call to them, Hun Sen said Saturday’s start of the campaign period was a “historical event” as it coincided with the 67th anniversary of the CPP’s founding.
“A colour revolution – led by former leaders of the opposition and foreign nations [was being fomented] to overthrow the legal government formed through elections. It was prevented in time through strong legal measures,” Hun Sen told cheering crowds.
The CPP president said he had “political programs planned for national construction and defence over the next five years, in order to respect and defend Cambodia’s constitution, monarchy, sovereignty and national boundaries”.
He also promised to increase the wages of garment workers, civil servants and members of the armed forces, and pay retirees’ pensions every two weeks from next year.
“We must protect [our] accomplishments at all cost and not permit any entity to destroy them. We must jointly preserve peace, stability and public order, and continue to further build the nation,” he said.
CPP supporters praised the party leaders’ success in helping to overthrow the Khmer Rouge and bring peace and development to Cambodia.
Sorm Yoeung, 53, a CPP supporter who attended the Koh Pich rally on Saturday said she was very pleased with the ruling party’s leadership.
“I am very happy to be here today. We believe 100 percent that our party will win because I see that people are very pleased with its accomplishments. I support the party because [its leaders] helped liberate the country from the Khmer Rouge and we trust it,” she said.
Tonle Bassac commune’s first deputy chief Sok Puthy, who led a rally at Norodom and Mao Tse Toung boulevards, in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district, said people turned out to support the CPP without threat or financial coercion.
“We willingly support the CPP. We believe we will win over the other parties. The party has achieved a lot of good – especially in bringing peace, improving infrastructure and living standards. We can live and work freely,” he said.
Other prominent parties also held large rallies in Phnom Penh, with more than 15,000 people joining LDP president Khem Veasna in a parade that ended near Riverside.
You Hockry, Funcinpec party vice-president and the first deputy president of the National Assembly, kicked off his party’s rally from its headquarters in Chroy Changvar district with about 2,000 supporters in tow.
His party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh is in a Thai hospital after being injured in a road crash last month.
Some 600 supporters joined KNUP leader Nhek Bun Chhay in a rally that began at his house in Chroy Changvar on Saturday and ended at his party’s headquarters in the same district.
Bun Chhay told reporters on Saturday that he planned large-scale government reforms if his party won the elections. “We will reform to [better] develop the country. Reforms will happen in many sectors, including land conflicts.
“We will eliminate land grabbing by powerful and wealthy individuals and private companies. We will end land concessions and give it back to the people,” he said.
After completing its first party congress on Saturday, KWP president Kong Monika told The Post at its headquarters that he is optimistic of his party’s chances after the prime minister recently said he would step down if he were to lose the election.
Monika, who was appointed KWP’s prime ministerial candidate, said “anything is possible” when asked how his newly established party could defeat the CPP which has ruled for decades and has more than 5.5 million members.
After its congress finished at 10am on Saturday, the KWP, which claims it is the “soul” of the banned CNRP, held its rally, which had some 300 supporters in attendance.
Nuon Vibol, 48, told The Post that he supported the party because it was founded by the son of former CNRP advisor Kong Korm. Korm, like other former CNRP leaders, is banned from active participation in politics for five years.
“We have the same will, which means we share the same source. The KWP is the party that has replaced the CNRP. We want to change the nation and reform the law and all ministries, departments, and jurisdictions,” he said before joining the rally.
In a statement on Saturday evening, the NEC said it was pleased with the conduct of the political parties in the first day of election campaigning. “Overall, the campaigning by the political parties went smoothly across the country,” it said.
Unlike other parties campaigning on Saturday, the GDP, led by Yang Saing Koma, held main its rally, which drew some 200 supporters, in Takeo province instead of the capital.
In Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province, where Sokha has been held since September, the former CNRP leader called on supporters to be “patient for the good of the country”, Muth Chantha, his former cabinet chief wrote on Facebook on Saturday.
Chantha quoted Sokha as saying: “Be patient and never be dissuaded from following the will of the people who give us hope and believe in the CNRP. Please be patient for the country, and never abandon it or be disloyal to the will of the people.”