“Win or lose? Win! Win or lose? Win!”
With those words CNRP president Kem Sokha kicked of his final call to Cambodian voters today to support the opposition party in the upcoming, and hotly contested, commune elections on Sunday.
Surrounded by tens of thousands of supporters, Sokha stood in the bed of a pickup truck, as the rally crawled across the Chroy Changvar Bridge after beginning at Wat Chas.
Thousands of motorcycles, interspersed with trucks fitted with loudspeakers playing party songs, made their way on a circuitous route, eventually heading towards Hun Sen Boulevard.
“Cambodia belongs to all of us and we should not allow the fate or future of our country to be decided by any one person or any party,” Sokha said minutes before the convoy left the peninsula.
His voice hoarse from the campaign trail – on which the opposition leader visited every province in the country over a two-week period – Sokha called a victory important, but said it needed to be backed up by a majority in the National Assembly next year.
“It said that we have done nothing, but we did not win and were not in charge of the national budget,” he said, referring to ruling party accusations, before adding that this needed to be rectified at the ballot boxes.
The CNRP procession immediately followed a massive morning rally by the Cambodian People’s Party, at which Prime Minister Hun Sen made a rare campaign appearance.
Until yesterday, it was unclear if the opposition rally would be allowed, as City Hall refused to give permission because of the overlap with the premier’s rally – his first since 1998. As a compromise, the CNRP agreed to start their procession after 2pm, and to depart from Chroy Changvar instead of the old Freedom Park, which was the site of CNRP protests following the 2013 national elections.
As the CNRP convoy inched its way towards Tuol Kork district, supporter Heng Sokha yelled party slogans while singing along to pop songs.
“We need a change. That is all we want. Change,” he said, before zooming ahead.
The day got off to a much more subdued start as opposition supporters waited for the ruling party rally to finish. Supporters slowly trickled into Wat Chas around 7am this morning.
With the sun beating down, they gathered underneath slivers of shade but were still willing to dance to an upbeat playlist of pop songs.
While Sokha was initially expected to speak this morning, it was left to Phnom Penh lawmaker Yim Sovann to prime the crowds for the president’s late entrance.
“The other party claims that all achievements belong to them,” he said, standing on an open truck. “We have been working hard but it claims they have made the achievements.”
In his speech, Sovann called attention to the premier’s rare public campaign appearance.
“The big commander is out today,” he said. “In the battlefield, when the commander has to fight – what does it mean?”
Responding to the lawmaker’s call, supporters chanted “change, change, change” before Sovann ran through the regular list of CNRP gripes with the government – including violent crackdowns on demonstrations and the misuse of state funds.
Though the rally proceeded unimpeded, opposition supporters called attention to what they deemed a double standard in their treatment.
While police personnel managed traffic at the premier’s rally, they were conspicuously absent at the opposition rally, where the party’s own security had to manage traffic.
“Where are the police? They should be here,” said a young girl with CNRP stickers on her cheeks.
Sitting at a gas station, Heng Sreng, 53, said today’s rallies were a prime example of the inequalities faced by the people, with the premier’s rally getting preference over the opposition’s.
“The police are also only here to give security to the CPP,” he said “When the CPP [rally] leaves the police will go home and relax.”