KRAINGYOV - Rou, 51-years-old, has spent her entire life in Kraingyov commune. Today,
people are still talking about the water festival, held just 30km away in Phnom Penh,
but Rou didn't go to watch it. She has never attended the festival.
"It is too expensive," she said.
A farmer in Kraingyov, where Hun Sen set up his development center three years ago,
Rou has half a hectare of land to grow rice. But it's not enough to feed her family
of eight, she says, so she has to find supplemental income.
"In Kraingyov, out of one hundred families, maybe five have enough rice. The
other ninety-five do not have enough, and they have to grow vegetables, catch fish
or borrow money from the rich," she says.
Sophal, a local teacher who earns 68,000 riels (about $20) a month, is another who
grows crops on the side to make a living. "This year I tried to produce three
crops, but some of the seeds were eaten by mice," he says.
Still, with his paddies now yielding two crops of rice a year, Sophal's life has
improved in recent years.
He, Rou and their neighbors realize that their lives have been eased by Hun Sen's
development projects. The locals are grateful that the Second Prime Minister chose
their village for his development center and recognize the good deeds he has done.
"He built four schools in the area, and we have a dike for irrigation,"
says Rou. "The dike is very good, but the farmers who have fields far away still
have to use fertilizer; the water does not go to their fields."
"Now we have roads," said Sy Heng, 60, recalling the time when the village
was cut off, especially during the rainy season.
"My life is a bit better than before," agrees Sophal, the teacher. "The
development center is a great achievement, and the roads allow us to send products
on time. Before, it was difficult to travel."
Sophal is most grateful for Hun Sen's construction of new concrete school buildings.
"Before, I had trouble when it was raining or windy, it disturbed my class.
Now there is no problem."
Throughout the commune of Kraingyov, it seems, people are pleased to have the help
of Samdech Hun Sen. "I am reborn," says an old woman. "I am very happy,"
Lest they should forget, there are plenty of reminders: the Kraingyov roadsides sport
many prominent signboards thanking Hun Sen for building a bridge, a dike, or gateway
for a pagoda.
It is Kraingyov, one would think, which represents the heart of Hun Sen territory.
But whether Hun Sen has won the hearts and minds of the Kraingyov people - or just
their temporary gratitude for easing the state of their pockets - is not clear.
The CPP, it seems, is not so sure itself. For months, there has been talk in Phnom
Penh about the "CPP surveys" - unofficial opinion polls conducted by the
party to gauge its popularity in Kraingyov and other areas.
The results have been closely guarded within the party - "ask Om Yentieng"
(Hun Sen's senior advisor) was the identical response of two senior party officials
who said they hadn't seen the poll figures - but everyone knows they were bad news
for Hun Sen and the CPP.
One source, acknowledging he had seen no official results, said the word around the
CPP was that the party's approval rating in Kraingyov was as low as 30% - and certainly
no more than 50% - of registered voters.
When the Post visited Kraingyov, the locals seemed reluctant to discuss politics
- or to declare their electoral support for any politician, Hun Sen or otherwise.
Asked whether she would vote for Hun Sen in the next election, Rou merely says that
she has not decided yet who she will vote for, and that she will wait and see.
Rou takes time before answering questions about politics, smiling and laughing with
embarrassment, and sometimes she doesn't answer. But she still has some opinions:
she says she will definitely vote in 1998, and she wants some changes after the elections.
"Elections are very important because after the election, the authority and
the government will be changed. The government will lead the country and the population.
I think that the election will change the government."
Most of all, Rou expects the local authorities to be changed.
"I would like the replacement of the local authorities because they have been
governing the village for a long time. They only care about their relatives. They
are corrupt," she says. Her words were echoed by all her neighbors.
Sophal says he too will definitely vote in 1998, but declines to name his preferred
However, he says he did vote for Hun Sen in 1993 because "Hun Sen is a leader
who helps the population. He came from a family of farmers."
His wife, however, cast her ballot in 1993 for now-deposed First Prime Minister Prince
"I wanted the King to come back and [I wanted] national reconciliation. I am
sad that Ranariddh is gone," she says.
Rou, too, voted for Funcinpec in 1993. She says she did so "because of the popularity
of the King", and acknowledges that "I knew who Hun Sen was but I didn't
know who Ranariddh was" at that time.
When an old woman asks whether there is a chance that the Prince will return to Cambodia,
Rou says that she was sad he had to leave but would not comment further.
"As an ordinary person, I do not care really who is in the government. I only
wish for peace and security."
Of the events of July, Rou says she has only heard what happened from her sons who
live in Phnom Penh. She cannot read or write, and has no television or radio.
"In July, I was in another village when I heard the sound of the shelling in
Phnom Penh. I was very worried for my sons. I cried and I was afraid of not having
a place to flee to," she recalls.
One of her sons came to see her within 24 hours of the fighting. Rou declines to
recount what her son explained to her about the situation in the capital.
The Kraingyov local authorities did not explain the fighting in Phnom Penh to the
villagers, she says. But she remembers that one or two days after the violence broke
out in Phnom Penh, CPP troops came to disarm the local Funcinpec office here.
Sophal says that he too heard the July fighting from his village, but did not know
what was going on. "When the fighting started I was afraid for the safety of
my nephew who lives in Phnom Penh near the university," he says, adding that
he was not sure who was involved in the fighting.
Sophal's boss, the director of his school, enters his house as a visitor asks whether
the July fighting was a coup d'état.
"It is not a coup. It is because one party was very greedy and hungry for power,"
the director offers.
Asked whether he was worried by the cancellation of foreign aid to Cambodia, the
director responds that it doesn't worry him.
"Anyway, the assistance never reached the people because each MP is asking for
a high salary and a Landcruiser."
He goes on to explain that Hun Sen gives out buildings, shirts and sarongs, and is
also giving all the teachers in Kraingyov a 10,000-riel salary bonus.
The teacher and his wife keep quiet as long as the school director is in their house.
After he leaves, Sophal will not say whether he thinks July was a coup d'état
"I only worry about war. As I heard the fighting in Phnom Penh, I thought the
war was happening again," he says.
His wife agrees: "I am afraid the war will start again. When leaders have a
dispute, war starts again. I don't know why there is a dispute."
Rou, meanwhile, has heard rumors about cuts to foreign aid. She doesn't know what
it means, but she is worried because so many people lack rice.
Asked if she thinks her living conditions will change after the elections, Rou says:
"It will depend on the government, if it pays more attention to the people.
If they do not take care of us, I will do my best [to support myself and my family]."