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Siem Reap: The issues that swung votes

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
Away from the ancient temples and the town, rural life goes on. KT/May Titthara

Siem Reap’s Angkor temples, craft shops, top-notch restaurants and the famous Pub Street have brought development to the province, but growth has not been reflected in support for the ruling CPP.
 
Preliminary results from the June 4 polls show the opposition CNRP winning in Siem Reap and Kampong Cham provinces and in Phnom Penh. 
 
In Siem Reap there are 100 communes. The CPP won 44, while the CNRP had 56. 
 
It was a blow to the CPP, which came top in 1,163 communes to the CNRP’s 482. 
 
The CPP secured 1,592 out of 1,613 communes five years ago.
 
So what changed?
 
In the town market carrying a CPP logo, trader Sopheak, 48, said vendors did not like the provincial authority, which never showed any concern for them, unless they received orders from higher levels.
 
“The CNRP won in this commune,” she said.
 
“I think people understand well that this election was not about electing a party. They elect the people that they like.”
 
Speaking as she kept an eye out for customers, Ms Sopheak said she wanted authorities to work for the people and not just for the party or the benefit of their families.
 
“We know you work for your party and want to help your family, but you should not cause problems for us to secure your family’s happiness,” she said.
 
“The authorities should make both sides happy.”
 
Amid a hum of activity between buyers and sellers, Ms Sopheak said: “From my point of view, the reason vendors don’t like and don’t support the CPP is because their officials are not very efficient and are tainted.
 
“Vendors want a new person who cares about them and helps them.”
 
Ms Sopheak said that in previous times people dared not wear a party hat or uniform apart from those of the CPP, but recently people were determined to show which party they supported. 
 
“I think people are not overly concerned about threats any more because they got fed up with local authorities’ corruption,” she said.
 
Sitting in his tuk tuk waiting for a client in front of a hotel along National Road 6, Mao Samphors (not his real name), 47, declined to talk much about politics because he did not want people to know which party he supported.  
 
 “I think a lot of people still support the CPP, but a lot of people also changed to support the CNRP,” he said.
 
“In this commune election the CNRP won because people don’t like the corrupt and non-working commune chief.”  
 
People do not like the CPP because its officials worked only when they needed something from the people, he said.
 
If they did not need locals for something in particular, he said they never came to visit the village, nor did they care if a member of the community was sick. 
 
He alleged local doctors also neglected to care for sick people unless they received payments first
 
 “What they care about is getting the money first. If they get money, then they will take care of the person,” Mr Samphors said.
 
“Take a look at some commune police. When they arrest drug users they do not take them for rehabilitation and to help them. They just try to contact the victim’s family to get money in exchange for their release.
 
“So when the drug users come back they still cause problems in the village.”  
 
Mr Samphors added: “When I need someone from the CPP to sign a document for my family, I don’t know where to find them.
 
“Sometimes when the commune chief has signed I don’t know where the clerk is.
 
“I think this is the reason CNRP got a chance to win.”
 
In the case of land disputes, the authorities had shown they did not care about people, he alleged. They just want to protect businesses, he said, as in the district of Chi Kreng in 2009 when the authorities open fired on villagers, injuring four.
 
People who protected their land were put in prison, he said.
 
“I was a victim in a land dispute,” he explained.
 
“We didn’t know who could help us. We travelled everywhere but there was no one to help.
 
“This is the reason why people who loved the CPP for a long time have stopped loving them.”  
 
In a house decorated with a photograph of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, a villager who asked not to be named spoke of her fears after the election.
 
She said people in the area, which comes under the management of the Apsara authority, had no land titles and recently asked Mr Hun Sen to issue them.
 
It was unlucky the CPP lost the area in the commune election, she added. 
 
She said she did not understand why the CPP lost in the commune polls and wondered how the people would get land titles now.
 
CNRP deputy provincial executive director Sok Kim Seng said voters liked their party policies, especially those about serving the public.
 
His party would help them quickly, would not discriminate and would not be corrupt, he added.
 
“People supported us because we promised that we would find markets for their products,” Mr Kim Seng said.
 
He said the CNRP won seats because people had a greater understanding of the value of their vote. The party had good policies, and commune chief candidate knew about their duties. But he said he thought the new commune chiefs would face many problems, especially with lack of co-operation from CPP-affiliated officers.
 
In his opinion, the CPP lost elections because they did not work to help people. If the party wanted its supporters back, they should work with the CNRP, he said, otherwise they would lose more and more.
 
Khieu Sot, CPP commune chief in Slakram commune, blamed internal party problems for the losses. 
 
He said he tried to work with his staff to change their thinking and to serve people in the commune, but it was very difficult.
 
“I have worked a lot already on roads, health care and security in the villages, but we have a limited budget,” he said.
 
“Now the CNRP are the winners they can say what they want. I worked as commune chief for two terms. I always took care of my people’s needs.”
 
He said he would wait and see what the new commune chief would do, but he still hoped that he would win the next commune election, because people would compare him favourably with the new commune chief. 
 
“When they get the new commune chief and need help they will think about me again,” he said.
 
Khim Bunsong, Siem Reap governor, declined to comment. 
 
Political analyst So Chantha said the reason for the changes in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and Kampong Cham provinces was that people now have more knowledge and access to information in their communities. 
 
 “When people get an education they can make decisions,” he said.
 
“Also the standard of living of people in those provinces is higher than in other provinces so what they want is freedom.” 
 
More than 85 percent of the 7.8 million registered voters turned out in the recent commune elections, described by international observers as free and fair with no sign of intimidation, violence or coercion.
 
The National Election Committee said 7.8 million of 9.6 million eligible Cambodians cast their ballots, while 94,595 candidates from 12 political parties contested the 11,572 council seats in 1,646 communes.
 
Commune elections were initiated in 2002 and designed to complete Cambodia’s transition from communism to full democracy. At that time, the CPP held all commune positions.

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