Saturday, 26 July 2008

Opposition makes headway in Cambodia

Prime Minister of Cambodia Samdech Hun Sen (r) is facing a strong opposition in the country's election. (AAP Image: Alan Porritt)
ABC News

Cambodia's long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen looks set to notch up another election victory tomorrow.

He is expected to take more seats in the national parliament.

Hun Sen is still popular even after 23 years in power. But the main opposition party is making headway.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) boasts that it has five million signed up members.
That is impressive when there are only eight million registered voters.

With so much flag waving and patriotic music, electioneering in Cambodia can feel like a big street party, but for many, campaigning is dangerous.

Sam Rainsy is the leader of the main Opposition party that bears his name.

At a campaign stop in Sang Ke District in the western province of Battambang, he finds himself literally unable to go on.

"They are deliberately blocking our way," he said.

Mr Rainsy says the CPP are trying to block change in the country it has ruled for 23 years.
"They don't want us to spread our message," he said.

"They are afraid of our message. They don't want the Cambodian people to hear the message of change from the Opposition."

Election violence

At least 12 people have been killed in this election campaign, including an Opposition journalist.

The president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Thun Saray, worries about a general rise in lawlessness at this time, because government officials, the military, and police are engaged in campaigning.

"We observed in the recent week there were also the increasing robbery, the ordinary crime, killings, something that is happened," he said.

"We worry about people who be frightened by this atmosphere."

While his supporters have been out in force, Prime Minister Hun Sen has done little in the way of campaigning.

His Government is being criticised for the huge spike in fuel and food prices and cannot shake corruption allegations relating to misuse and abuse of public land and forests.

But foreign investment is strong and the Government is benefiting from a wave of nationalistic pride because of its tough stance in the Preah Vihear Temple dispute with Thailand.

The ABC was denied an interview with the Prime Minister, but Cheam Yeap from the Central Committee of the Cambodian People's Party did speak to us.

Mr Cheam says that Sam Rainsy's push for change is a trick on the people.

Based on a report by Karen Percy for AM

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