Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - To SRP the towns, to CPP the country

To SRP the towns, to CPP the country

To SRP the towns, to CPP the country

If the three major parties were competing in a road race rather than an election,

Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) would be in a high-end jeep,

ready for the rough roads of the country as well as the relatively well-paved cities

and towns.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy would be in a sleek sports car, good in the cities but

not as useful on the village dirt roads, while Funcinpec's Prince Norodom Ranariddh

would be on a moto with a flat tire. Worse still for the Prince, it appears that

Rainsy may have taken his car.

The SRP made strong gains across the nation, but mostly in the cities and towns.

In the face of these SRP gains, the CPP also gained seats in the National Assembly

over its 1998 total. The overall loser was Funcinpec, which saw a major drop in support

continuing the slide that began in 1998.

The SRP's spokesman, Ung Bun Ang, says the opposition benefited from the fact that

people living in urban areas are better off and less fearful.

"Usually in towns most people are literate and highly educated, so they are

not afraid of being threatened. No one can use money to buy their votes," says

Bun Ang. "That is why we see a big gap between the ballot results in towns and

in the countryside. For those in the village, the CPP could buy their vote at just

2,000 to 3,000 riel."

And although the SRP won a convincing victory in Phnom Penh, the results in the most

populous province, Kampong Cham, probably provide a better view. The CPP won 286,577

votes in the province, while the SRP took 164,511. Funcinpec came a close third with

164,232.

The provincial capital itself was again won by the SRP with 9,391 votes against 5,947

for the CPP. Funcinpec took a pounding, claiming just 1,842 votes.

At the last general election in 1998, the CPP won 246,900 votes in the province,

with 5,120 in Kampong Cham town. Funcinpec actually won the province, with 277,362

of which 6,903 were in town. The SRP trailed in third overall with 96,720 votes,

7,077 of them in Kampong Cham town.

In short, Funcinpec's votes in the province were cannibalized by its two rivals,

with the SRP taking almost twice as many votes off the royalists as the CPP did.

The result is that the SRP made strong gains, but not at the expense of the ruling

party, which is why the provincial CPP leadership is able to shrug off the opposition's

showing.

"I'm not worried because our results increased in 2003," says Khlot Phan,

a local CPP leader. "The real fluctuation has been between the SRP and Funcinpec."

And that is one reason the royalists in the province are worried. The party won the

country's largest province last time with eight of the 18 seats. Although seat allocations

have not been officially released, Funcinpec has lost three.

A gloomy Seak Chiv Leng, Funcinpec's third deputy governor and a leading campaigner,

feels the party has itself to blame.

"People in the town want to change the leader," he says. "They don't

see any progress with the old leaders. People voted for Funcinpec twice and have

not seen any changes."

Along with urban voters, the SRP found strong support among the youth. Bun Ang believes

young voters feel no allegiance to the CPP. Mao Monyvan, who was second on the SRP's

ticket in Kampong Cham, says the party got most of its votes from those in the 18

to 30 age bracket.

The key question for both the opposition and the CPP is whether the SRP's urban gains

and popularity with the young will translate into more votes in the next general

election, which will be held in 2008.

Tim Smyth, the managing director of Indochina Research, says the urban centers have

seen rapid growth over the past 18 months. He estimates the urban population has

increased from 17 to 18.5 percent in that time, and says only half of that increase

was seen in Phnom Penh. Other trading centers, including Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong

Cham, Kampong Chhnang, and Sihanoukville, have also grown.

"The SRP always plays better in the urban centers than in rural centers,"

says Smyth, adding that the opposition's gains are not as a result of the move to

cities. "People are feeling freer to express their opinions."

And with more than 80 percent of the population living in rural areas, the opposition

knows it will need to improve its showing there next time. Mao Monyvan says the SRP

had limited success in rural areas despite campaigning hard.

"The SRP campaigned all around the country," he says. "But the thing

is that in the countryside, people get pressured by the authorities, and the political

atmosphere there is not good at all."

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