VOD reporters followed the launch of the official campaigning period for the June 5 commune election on Saturday morning. The Candlelight Party held a march through Phnom Penh, while the ruling CPP conducted gatherings within communes. Other parties like the Grassroots Democratic Party and the Khmer National United Party also kicked off their campaigning.
Candlelight Party members and supporters demonstrated their numbers on Saturday with a road rally of some 150 tuk-tuks, cars and trucks and at least as many motorbikes.
Supporters cheered, waved flags and blasted their party election songs through loudspeakers. Those standing in the open backs of trucks danced to the music.
Chamran Poum was one of them. She spoke with reporters right before the rally began, as supporters prepared on Mong Reththy Road on the western edge of Phnom Penh.
“I’m so excited,” she said, talking fast and smiling wide. She had party logo stickers on both cheeks. “I am happy deep in my heart that the Candlelight Party is alive again. Generally speaking, I can almost feel the tears coming out.”
Party members and supporters who spoke with VOD said they backed the party as they saw it as dedicated to fighting what they described as widespread corruption. Most said they were former CNRP supporters. Some pointed to the exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy as their source of political inspiration.
Younger members of the rally said they were happy to take part in the opposition’s political renewal.
Yen Chan Kosal, 21, told VOD that his father, a former member of the CNRP, had been elected as the first candidate of his home commune. When the Supreme Court moved to dissolve the opposition in 2017, clearing the way for the ruling CPP to establish a de-facto single-party state, Kosal’s father and all the other CNRP officials were stripped of their positions.
Kosal said part of his political interest was drawn from that, explaining that “my family received a lot of pain” during the CNRP dissolution. Looking forward, he believed youth participation in politics was vital to addressing what he saw as problems in Cambodia.
“It is very important,” he said of youth involvement. “I want to change the leader — I want to change everything. The reason for that, as I see it, is that there’s a lot of corruption in the country.”
The Khmer National United Party kicked off its election campaign with a rally starting in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district, going to Russei Keo and back. Party supporters were dressed in navy blue shirts and hats, with party songs blaring from a loudspeaker.
The rally snaked from Bridge No. 10 on National Road 6 near the Phnom Penh border with Kandal. Dozens of motorcycles and cars then crossed the Tonle Sap to Russei Keo district before returning to where the rally started.
Party president Nhek Bun Chhay said the party was focused on informing the electorate about its seven policy recommendations, including improving security, reducing deforestation and access to clean water.
“We will solve the illiteracy issue and encourage young kids to go to school,” he said in an interview with VOD.
The party president was jailed shortly after the 2017 election in relation to a decade-old drug case and was released in 2018 on court supervision. There were allegations that he was arrested after leaked audio of him purportedly negotiating with the CNRP prior to the commune election. The party’s vice president, Oum Somontha, previously told VOD that Bun Chhay had merely mixed up opposition official Eng Chhai Eang with someone named Y Kim Eng.
Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng spoke at an election rally in the morning, listing achievements like removing driver’s license requirements for motorbikes under 125 cc; providing the social security fund for civil servants, armed forces, councilors and village officials; and raising the minimum wage.
“With the CPP leading, the country has peace and development,” Sreng said. “Please CPP members, act with one vote for one member on election day.”
Sreng also said 98 percent of the country’s villages had been connected to electricity, and the government had successfully responded to the Covid-19 crisis.
A woman on stage called out to introduce Sreng: “Peace, democracy and development. Bravo CPP!”
Unlike the citywide march of the opposition Candlelight, the CPP’s Saturday activities were dispersed but pervasive. Many streets across Phnom Penh saw motorcades brandishing CPP flags, while tents were set up in many communes for smaller gatherings and rallies. Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng attended an election event in Battambang.
The morning’s campaigning in Phnom Penh featured songs about the achievements of the CPP, saying the party developed the country while others just protested. Some supporters clapped in the streets while wearing party T-shirts.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan has said that the party would focus on grassroots campaigning and was hoping for a “landslide victory.”
The ruling CPP and opposition Candlelight continued their campaigning through the streets of Phnom Penh.
Candlelight set off with around 140 tuk-tuks, cars and trucks carrying supporters, plus a few hundred motorbikes. From Sen Sok they made their way south past the airport, and are scheduled to spend the morning marching toward the Monivong bridge that crosses to Chbar Ampov before turning back north to reach the area near Aeon 2. A northern loop is scheduled for the afternoon.
Supporters of the ruling CPP, meanwhile, began to dance to music playing from a stage set up near Phnom Penh’s riverside. One supporter, who declined to give her name, said: “I am so happy to join this campaign. The CPP is a good party because they are for development, and people are happy. Moreover they’ve provided four doses [of Covid-19 vaccinations], and the leader lives with the people. He does not leave the people.”
The Grassroots Democratic Party was making a circuit of Koh Dach island with around 20-30 motorbikes and a few cars, led by party co-founder Yang Saing Koma, an agricultural expert.
Sour Thearin, a resident from neighboring Koh Oknha Tei island, joined the rally and told VOD that he had been a GDP supporter since the party was created, especially due to its connection to murdered political analyst Kem Ley.
“I supported the party because they have policies to help agricultural sectors, which Cambodia relies the most on,” Thearin said. “The party has a policy to reduce agricultural imports by supporting local products.”
“I see the potential in this party — its supporters have been growing over time,” he added. “I believe strongly that this party will be the hope for the next generation.”
Bunthoeurn Prak, a Koh Dach resident, said he believed the GDP was “a real democratic party.”
“I support the GDP because they have good policies: to have no corruption, improve the market for local produce. And the leader of the GDP has a good reputation.”
Mab, a tuk-tuk driver from Kampot province, watched supporters of the ruling CPP ride through Phnom Penh on motorbikes.
“I will vote CPP because they bring peace to our country,” Mab said, holding a ruling-party flag.
The CPP was also campaigning in Stung Treng province on Saturday morning, as around two dozen cars and 100 motorbikes with supporters and party flags made their way through Stung Treng city.
The first day of commune election campaigning is kicking off on Saturday morning, with the Candlelight Party saying it is expecting thousands to join it in a march starting in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district.
Candlelight’s secretary-general, Ly Sothearayuth said the opposition party was expecting thousands to join its march. The feeling today: “I’m excited. We’ve been waiting days, months, a year for this.”
A line of gathered cars, trucks and motorbikes began to move before 9 a.m.
The ruling CPP, which said it had planned no major rallies, had tents set up on Phnom Penh’s riverside and along Hun Sen Blvd. Municipal governor Khuong Sreng led a rally in Prek Pnov district, introducing commune candidates. Hundreds of people on motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars had gathered with him.
The Grassroots Democratic Party is starting the campaign period with three rallies. At Phnom Penh’s Koh Dach commune around 100 people dressed in GDP colors are waiting for senior party leaders to arrive to start a rally at 8:30 a.m.
Party spokesperson Sam Inn said the commune was one of the five communes the party hoped to win at the June election. He said the party rallies in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap were proceeding without issue but that there was a scheduling conflict with a CPP rally in Kampong Cham’s Cheung Prey commune, with the ruling party given preference by local election officials for their rally route.
“This is unfair because we submitted the [rally] plan first and it was accepted. They tried to adjust to the preference of the CPP, which is not fair to us,” he said.
Reporting by Ananth Baliga, Andrew Haffner, Danielle Keeton-Olsen, Mech Dara, Meng Kroypunlok, Phin Rathana and Roun Ry.