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The three big fish swallow all the minnows

The three big fish swallow all the minnows

The ink has not yet faded from their fingers, but the leaders of the nation's 19

small political parties are taking stock of the time, effort and money they put into

the July 27 national election. The small parties, fighting for 1 or 2 percent of

the vote, were swallowed up by the big three.

"The big fish still eats the small fish in Cambodia," said Nhoung Seab,

leader of the Rice Party.

One of the best-funded and most prestigious was the Norodom Chakrapong Khmer Spirit

Party. To its founder's surprise, the party fared worse than most of the small parties.

Prince Norodom Chakrapong said he was shocked that his party failed to get even 2

percent of the vote. He claimed to have 200,000 supporters in Kampong Cham province

alone, but polled only a few thousand votes.

"How can we get less than four or five thousand votes? How can they disappear?"

he asked.

The answer may be found in what the leader of the Cambodia Development Party, Mao

Bora, discovered. In an interview shortly after the opening of the campaign period

on June 26, Bora said he hoped to win 10 seats in the National Assembly because he

knew "a lot of people in the provinces".

While all the people Bora knows in the provinces may have voted for the CDP, it is

unlikely that number was large enough to make a dent in the polls. But Bora now doubts

that even his 4,000 members in Kampot and Kampong Cham voted for his party.

"I thought I had a lot of supporters. It turns out I didn't," he said glumly.

"They may say they support me to my face, but I cannot know their hearts."

Each of the small parties spent large sums of money. In most cases it came directly

out of party leaders' pockets. Nhoung Seab spent more than $10,000 of his own cash

for the Rice Party's campaign, while Bora shelled out more than $10,000. Chakrapong

was rumored to have spent around $2 million.

Ty Chhin, president of the Khmer Children's Party, was not pleased with the result

that his $1,335 yielded, but felt that it was for the greater good.

"I feel regret for spending the money, especially for the people who donated

money," he said. "But for the sake of democracy, it was worth it."

While most parties claimed they suffered from the intimidatory or vote-buying tactics

of the three big parties, Hang Dara of the Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party, said

the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had worked in a more subtle way.

"I want the ballots produced in the United States next time," he said.

"The CPP put a special chemical into the ink so that when a voter checked the

Hang Dara box, the mark went into the CPP box."

Hang Dara said that he reported the chemical to the NEC, but had received no response.

He said he would take his claim to the Supreme Council of Magistracy if the NEC did

not investigate.

None of the parties had any doubt that they would continue in the next general and

commune elections. But not all will participate in next year's Senate elections.

"I don't know about the 2004 Senate elections. I don't have much money left,"

said CDP's Bora.

Nhoung Seab said the Rice Party "will continue forever".

Chakrapong said his party would still try to become a political force. He would not

rule out aligning his cash with either Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party in the future.

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