PHNOM PENH (AP) - For an hour on Saturday night,May 8, the facade of the ancient
Phnom Penh railway station became the screen for a psychedelic slide show.
From the back of a truck, Cambodia Cambodge Renaissance political party workers used
a giant projector to bathe the building in swirls of color, as party anthems extolling
peace and national rebirth blared from a loudspeaker.
With few election traditions to draw upon, Cambodia's 20 political parties have invented
their own campaign styles as they go along. They are competing in what are expected
to be the country's first free elections in decades, scheduled for May 23-28 and
to be monitored by a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
To win support, the largest, richest parties rely on mass media and parties, while
smaller parties like Cambodia Renaissance scramble to find cheaper and more creative
Saturday night's show preceded a photographic narrative describing what party president
Y Phandara would do to reunite Cambodians and develop the economy. Slides of the
Eiffel tower and the Paris opera, as well as of state-of-art tractors and trains,
showed the route along which the French-educated Phandara hopes to take Cambodia.
The audience-mostly men-responded enthusiastically, "the slide show is really
amazing, very interesting, very modern," said Meas Chanbunty, a motorbike taxi
driver. "The whole thing is fantastic."
Cambodia's recent history has been sterile ground for democratic politics. A military
autocracy ruled during the 1970-75 civil war. From 1975-78, the fanatical communist
Khmer Rouge slaughtered all opponents and hundreds of thousands of other people.
Cambodians who formerly had no choice are now confounded by the many alternatives.
"There are too many parties," said Peo Sopheak, an unemployed former government
soldier, "fewer political parties would mean people wouldn't have to spend as
much time finding out what the parties stood for."
Some parties have emphasized one or two simple ideas to make themselves heard above
In a campaign flyer, Liberal Reconciliation Party president Prih Samreth lists his
personal assets-one house, two cars, two small businesses, U.S. $50,000 in the bank.
The flyer says that if Samreth gets any richer while in office, those who voted for
him should get him punished in court for corruption.
"There is a pattern in Cambodian society, past and present, of manipulation,
corruption and exploitation of the people in general," explained Mao Bunthoeun,
Samreth's assistant. "He wants to emphasize that he is an honest candidate."
Miech Poch, a senior party official, said Liberal reconciliation can't afford a media
blitz, so it spreads its message by word of mouth with the help of more than 6,000
student volunteers. The students fan out villages and distribute flyers, along with
free packages of aspirin donated by supporters.
"The reason why we take medicine to the people is symbol, to show that this
party cares for them," Poch said. "Since 1979, the people have suffered
for too much and too long, so that for the pops people in particular, they don't
know what pain and suffering is any more."
The Khmer Rouge, which is boycotting the election, is reamed for several kiting in
recent weeks. And the ruling Cambodian people's party has been accused of murdering
its opponents. The of at least one party is too scared to even leave his office.
Cham Sing, secretary general of the neutral democratic party of Cambodia, said he
knows of at least one party that bribed people to aliened its rallies by paying them
up to a dollar each. But it's basic charisma that's drawing crowds.
In downtown Phnom Penh recently, price Norodom Ranariddh, leader of the popular party
known by its French acronym FUNCINPEC, spoke about 3,000 supporters. Ranariddh removed
his shoes and knelt before a Phalanx of Buddhist monks before delivering a 90-minute
speech while standing in his socks.
The address varied in tone from serious to playful, and the audience responded with
outbursts of laughter and cheers. When an old woman wailed and tried to come forward
to touch him, Ranariddh knelt. clasped her hands, then had his wife give her a bolt