ON one level, the 1998 election is a political battle featuring the CPP and its allies
against a Funcinpec-Sam Rainsy Party-Son Sann Party coalition. On another level it
is a battle for the premiership between Hun Sen, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam
And on yet another level it is a battle between the likes of Chea Song, Min Saroeun
and Yi Saray.
Who are Chea Song, Min Saroeun and Yi Saray? They are the top candidates in Banteay
Meanchey for the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), respectively.
All 39 political parties contesting the election have submitted their candidate lists
to the NEC for approval, and along with some interesting individual provincial campaign
battles, a clearer picture of the parties themselves has emerged.
Among the contenders, Funcinpec's list reflects that the royalist party - rocked
by splits, defections and expulsions - has changed the most since the 1993 election
when it captured more votes than any other party.
Of the 58 party members that Funcinpec was able to install in the National Assembly
after the UN-sponsored polls, only 23 are on the 1998 candidate list as full candidates.
At least 10 are running for other parties.
Not surprisingly, almost all of the Funcinpec Assembly members that were for months
in self-exile after last July's coup are candidates, as are top members of Prince
Ranariddh's cabinet, Ly Thuch and Kong Vibol.
Also apparently rewarded for their loyalty have been Khan Savoeun, the former Military
Region 4 commander who has led the Funcinpec resistance army alongside Nhek Bun Chhay
since last July, and Long Sarin, a deputy at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok who
greatly contributed to Funcinpec's attempts to entice Khmer Rouge defections to the
National United Front.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah explained that many current parliamentarians
did not survive the party's candidate screening process because constituents, as
well as senior Funcinpec officials, did not trust their commitment to the party.
"The president of the party [Ranariddh], in consultation with top party leaders,
decided who would be the top candidates and made final changes," Tol Lah said.
"Some people were left off because our supporters consider them disloyal to
the party. If we had kept them on the list, we would have lost support from the people."
It is known that Bun Chhay wielded a red pen in Bangkok last month in this regard.
Funcinpec sources say Ranariddh's list was changed eight separate times after meetings
with Bun Chhay.
As a result of the depletion of its ranks, Funcinpec has integrated with the National
Congress Party. Tol Lah said five or six members of the small party, mostly educated
Khmers who have been living abroad, have been placed on Funcinpec's candidate list.
"In our policy we are open to intellectuals. The National Congress Party had
a lot of doctors and engineers," he said. This party also had republican leanings,
a fact MP Ahmed Yayha said reflected Funcinpec's desire to seek broader support.
Funcinpec has reinforced its royalist image though, with seven candidate members
of the Royal family: deposed first premier Ranariddh; Prince Sisowath Sirirath, the
ambassador to the Untied Nations who was a key lobbyist in the opposition's battle
last year for Cambodia's UN seat; Princess Norodom Vichara, a sister of the exiled
MP Prince Norodom Sirivudh; Prince Sisowath Sirivuth Panara, a secretary of state
for culture; Princess Norodom Dyat, the wife of exiled Prince Norodom Chakrapong;
Princess Sisowath Sanda and Princess Sisowath Khemavatei.
As Funcinpec's list reflects the turmoil that has surrounded the party over the past
few years, the CPP's candidate list reflects the rock-solid organization that has
enabled it to politically outmaneuver all others.
Of the 51 CPP members voted into the Assembly in 1993, 47 appear on the party's 1998
list, with the vast majority of these MPs receiving high positions on the list that
will increase their chances of a second term.
"All our current parliamentarians have been listed as candidates again except
for a few who have had health problems and cannot campaign. We will provide these
Assembly members with other jobs," said Ith Sam Heng, CPP deputy director and
the party's candidate for Sihanoukville's single Assembly seat.
New, well-placed candidates on the CPP list have won their positions, like in Funcinpec,
on merits of loyalty and good service, Ith Sam Heng said. Many are already well-known
government officials, such as Hor Namhong, Ambassador to France, and Commerce Minister
Except for a few notable shifts of constituencies - party vice president Hun Sen
and honorary president Heng Samrin have swapped provinces - almost all of the CPP's
current MPs will campaign in the same provinces as they did in 1993.
Ith Sam Heng said this consistency is no accident. The party prefered its candidates
to be familiar to the voters and, ideally, to be recognized as a native of the province,
Conversely, the Sam Rainsy Party has almost no recognizable public figures in its
ranks and did not follow a strategy of placing candidates in their home provinces.
Rainsy said he was unconcerned about the relative anonymity of his candidates compared
to the CPP and Funcinpec because he felt voters would identify with the parties'
leadership and platform, not their provincial candidates.
"It is a presidential election more than a legislative one," Rainsy said.
"In this election people will vote for the type of society they want to live
in. They don't care about the individual candidates in my opinion.
"Maybe in five or ten years when we have had local elections, then maybe the
local personalities will be a big factor."
Still, SRP candidates mirror the party's perceived voter base: they are young and
liberal, with a greater percentage of women than other major parties. Rainsy expects
to garner the majority of his party's votes from urban areas.
"Our candidates are young people. We must be the youngest party," he said.
"Many on the top of our list are opposition newspaper editors. We also have
many young doctors and young professionals."
Although voters will be choosing among party logos on the ballot and many voters
may only identify with the likes of Ranariddh, Hun Sen and Rainsy, several interesting
local battles have emerged in five large provinces that contain almost half of the
Both Ranariddh and Rainsy have moved from their 1993 constituencies to Kampong Cham,
the most populous province with 18 seats.
Rainsy and Tol Lah said having the aligned parties' highest profile members running
in the same province was a chance occurrence, as neither party consulted with the
other on the placement of candidates.
Both parties gave different reasons for having their presidents campaign in Kampong
"It is a proportional system, so the more votes you get in Kampong Cham, the
more seats you will win for the party," Tol Lah said of Funcinpec's decision.
"We put our best candidates in the most important places."
Rainsy, on the other hand, said his was a decision based on the election climate.
"I wanted to be in Kampong Cham as it is a CPP stronghold and a province experiencing
a high level of intimidation. I think I can decrease that intimidation by campaigning
Hun Sen, a Kampong Cham native who campaigned there in 1993, has moved to his home
province of Kandal. Samrin is now the top CPP candidate in Kampong Cham, along with
Assembly members Dith Munthy and Math Ly, Ambassador Hor Namhong and Information
Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith.
Other notables running in the province include Assembly First Vice President Loy
Sim Chheang for the Sangkum Thmei party and Khieu Sengkim, brother of Khmer Rouge
nominal leader and former Kampong Cham MP Khieu Samphan, for Nguon Soeur's Khmer
In Phnom Penh, with 12 Assembly seats up for grabs, the CPP leads its list with party
president Chea Sim, senior party official Sim Ka and Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
Opposing them from Funcinpec are (from the top of their list) Tol Lah and Assembly
members Prak Chantha and Ahmed Yahya. The SRP leads its list with Rainsy's wife,
Tioulong Saumura, the former deputy governor of the National Bank of Cambodia.
Other candidates in the capital include Kem Sokha from the Son Sann Party, former
Funcinpec Assembly member Om Radsady for the Sangkum Thmei and BLDP Assembly member
Thach Reng for his self-named party.
In Kandal, which contains 11 seats, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen will face off against
Deputy Prime Minister Ing Kieth and former resistance general Dien Del from Funcinpec,
and BLDP Assembly member Sor Sa'ath from Ieng Mouly's Buddhist Liberal Party.
Battambang, with eight seats, pits Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng from the CPP against
Prince Sisowath Sirirath of Funcinpec and Assembly Second Vice President Son Soubert
of the Son Sann Party.
In the tourist town of Siem Reap, home of six seats, provincial governor Toan Chay,
a former Funcinpec member who now leads the National Unity Party, is running against
Defense Minister Tea Banh from the CPP, former BLDP Assembly member Son Chhay from
the SRP, and Princess Vichara from Funcinpec.