Two lawmakers exchanged heated words outside a Pailin market on Sunday, in what the Cambodia National Rescue Party claimed was an ongoing intimidation campaign by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party ahead of Sunday’s commune elections.
In a video broadcast on Facebook, CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua can be seen greeting locals on the outskirts of a market in Pailin commune, when she is approached by CPP lawmaker Ban Sreymom.
Sreymom taps Sochua on the back several times before Sochua turns around and presses her hands into a sampeah. Sreymom, instead, thrusts her hand forward for a handshake. While the sound in the video is patchy, the tension is palpable.
Reached yesterday, Sochua said she was campaigning in a vehicle when the CPP started blasting loudspeakers and drowning out her messages. When negotiations between the parties and the commune and provincial election committees failed, Sochua continued campaigning on foot.
Seeing Sochua approach a market, where politicking is restricted without permission, Sreymom decided to intervene.
The CNRP and Sochua “had not respected the law” and “caused chaos”, Sreymom said. “They acted without dignified behaviour and wanted to cause violence and problems. We need to crack down when [a party] breaks the law. She cannot do whatever she wants and cannot step on CPP heads.”
She added that her party was allowed to play songs over the loudspeaker at a high volume, and it was Sochua’s problem if she could not be heard.
Sreymom said she would check with her husband, Y Chhean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence – and former provincial governor, as well as a former bodyguard to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot – to see if further action would be taken.
Sochua maintained she was not campaigning inside the market, although she had permission from the market owner to enter. “I asked her to listen and I tried to explain what happened,” she said. “But she said that this road is her road; she constructed that road, and I had no right to walk on her road.
“I’m sorry, but as far as I’m concerned, this is public property.”
Sochua said she saw “no point in arguing” and returned to her vehicle to campaign in a different area, but cancelled after finding it surrounded by CPP youth.
“It was so obviously a blatant violation of the rules and of our rights . . . It is so intimidating, the whole thing,” she said, referring to constant monitoring by ruling party activists. “Only [this time] it was MP [member of parliament] to MP.”
She said she regretted the hostility, and felt that respect and politeness should have prevailed.
Ven Dara, CNRP provincial executive, said a complaint had been filed to the Commune Election Committee against the CPP for obstructing the CNRP.
National Election Committee spokesman Hang Puthea said he had not received a complaint about the confrontation, although he had seen it on Facebook. “These two representatives of political parties should welcome each other and speak in a friendly way,” he said.
He stressed any campaign activities inside or near markets needed to be agreed to by the market chief.