The June 25 kick-off of Campaign '98 not only clogged streets in Phnom Penh and provincial
capitals with political rallies, but also voters' televisions with political advertising.
All 39 competing parties were asked by the National Election Committee (NEC) to prepare
five-minute messages to be aired on government-run television stations. The political
commercials are run from 12:30pm-3pm and 4:30pm-7pm on odd-numbered campaign days
in a randomly determined order.
Only 16 parties had made their submissions by June 25. Still the debut of Cambodia's
newest and most uniform political advertising medium appears to reveal an accurate
picture of the competitors.
Lower-budget parties not surprisingly produced cheaper advertisements, with most
resorting to a bland and uninspiring format: introduction with image of party's logo
and traditional Khmer music in the background; cut to party president or secretary-general
sitting at a desk along with a microphone, speech notes and a flower arrangement
- "My name is X from the X party. We support democracy, peace, national reconciliation...";
end with a shot of someone ticking the party's spot on the ballot.
Similarly, most front-running parties appear to have shelled out lots of money and
effort to put together ads aimed at grabbing the attention of the majority of reportedly
Almost nothing was left untouched in the commercials as most parties attempted to
associate themselves with images that are almost universally positive in voters'
minds. King Sihanouk and Queen Monineath made numerous appearances, while the Cambodian
Mine Action Center, foreign ambassadors and US presidents were also exploited for
their perceived political value.
Ted Ngoy's Free Development Republican Party - which proudly proclaims that its president
"received the title of millionaire" while a businessman in the United States
- used the most surprising array of images: Ted Ngoy chatting with former US President
George Bush; Ted Ngoy posing with former US Vice President Dan Quayle; and - from
the theater of the bizarre - Ted Ngoy speaking with the man who authorized the secret
carpet-bombing of Cambodia in the 1960s and 70s, former US President Richard Nixon.
If Oscars were awarded for party commercials, the CPP would surely win Best Picture
and a slew of other awards for superior editing and production.
By far the most professional work, the CPP's ad begins with an animated party logo
of a flying Thevada who sprinkles stars from her hand as she floats into the center
of the CPP's crest.
The CPP's top leadership - Chea Sim, Hun Sen and Heng Samrin - are then shown in
recent clips before the narrator launches into the history of the party's almost
20-year stewardship of Cambodia.
Fuzzy, black-and-white images of the 1979 liberation of Phnom Penh flash across the
screen as the narrator hails the end of the "Pol Pot regime". The rebuilding
of the nation follows, with historical footage of laborers and farmers working hard
to create a productive society. Patriotic music continues throughout the five minutes.
"In the past as well as in the present and future, it is the CPP that shares
both the good times and the bad times with the people, no matter what the circumstances,"
the narrator states. "The CPP will do everything for the people."
Along with general themes of liberation and restoration, maintaining peace is a central
message of the CPP as the "core of national reconciliation". Scenes of
Hun Sen signing the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and of him attending Khmer Rouge integration
ceremonies drive home this theme.
"To vote for the CPP is to vote for peace and the reduction of poverty,"
the narrator concludes at the end of the commercial.
But just as the multi-Oscar-winning technical blockbuster "Titanic" failed
to win any acting awards, the CPP would surely lose out in the Best Actor category
to Prince Norodom Ranariddh for his leading role in Funcinpec's campaign spot.
In an almost tearful speech, Ranariddh thanks his father, King Sihanouk, and the
Cambodian people "for giving me the justice that has enabled me to return to
see all of you in this beautiful land of Angkor after having been away from you for
almost a year". It is the Prince's most direct reference to his ouster, life
of self-exile, trial and Royal amnesty.
The Prince portrays himself as a beaten champion, reminding voters that Funcinpec
won the 1993 UN-sponsored election "even though I was forced to share power".
And although Funcinpec's choice of "Chariots of Fire" for its opening music
might sway nostalgic foreign Oscar judges, Best Musical Score should be awarded to
First Prime Minister Ung Huot's Reastr Niyum party for its traditional-style party
theme song that runs for the entire length of its five-minute segment.
With inspiring lyrics like "let's end the war together", "let's improve
the living conditions of the people so they will have a better life", and "Khmer
people unite together to promote the Reastr Niyum", the party may convince some
wavering voters to dance gaily down to the polling station and vote Reastr Niyum.
Mom Sonando's Bee Hive party should receive an honorable mention for its modern rock
music cut with scenes of young Khmers gyrating to the beat. Cambodia's voting MTV
generation will no doubt take note.
The party ads produced more nominees for Best Special Effects than expected, with
the CPP's flying Thevada and the Sam Rainsy Party's (SRP) flickering candle just
two of several impressive animated sights. But Best Special Effects should go to
Information Minister Ieng Mouly's Buddhist Liberal Party (BLP).
Sections of the BLP logo hover around the edges of the screen as its centerpiece
- a birdbath-like pond - spins toward the center like a wayward communications satellite.
As the pond rotates into position, three pink lotus blossoms sprout from its depths,
completing the party's logo.
Surprisingly, the relatively well-financed SRP is this campaign season's lame duck
for the television ads.
The majority of the SRP's five minutes is taken up by recent footage of Sam Rainsy
speaking in Kampong Cham. Rainsy announces his own personal candidacy in Kampong
Cham and tells supporters how horrible the human rights situation is in the province,
perhaps giving television viewers the impression that Kampong Cham is the only place
the SRP is campaigning.
The SRP is undoubtedly aware of its video's shortcomings. A party steering committee
member was seen at the end of the month entering a local video production house looking
for help on a second video.
An SRP party worker told the Post that "something a lot better" should
be ready for the NEC in a few days.
But despite the video's relative tedium, some parts of Rainsy's speech raised eyebrows
at the NEC when it was screened for content. An election official said that NEC member
Prom Nean Vichet moved to reject the SRP video because it criticized another party,
which is against NEC regulations for the television ads.
But after further review by NEC President Chheng Phon, it was determined that Rainsy
was not criticizing a party or a person, as the rules state, but instead he criticized
"the government" and "the system". The commercial was then approved