Chanting slogans, waving banners and hollering through bullhorns, political supporters took to the streets Friday, as thousands of candidates from 12 political parties across the country officially began campaigning ahead of April 1 commune elections.
Trucks and motorcycles full of supporters moved in long lines through Phnom Penh, while candidates and activists around the country spread through their constituencies to tout platforms in 1,621 communes, administrative areas comprising several villages or neighborhoods. More than 100,000 candidates are expected to compete in the elections, which have nearly 7.8 million registered voters.
The elections are only the second of their kind since the 1991 Peace Accords and are considered by the government and the international community a central component of Cambodia's rebirth from decades of civil strife.
Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district chief, Pech Sochoeun, of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, told VOA about 500 working groups and supporters had prepared to move through their communes in processions aimed at making the party's views known.
"After the procession goes around the city, the working groups will go house to house distributing the CPP's political platforms and its development policy and informing the people about the party," Pech Sochoeun said.
The CPP has candidates in all but one of the country's communes. The Sam Rainsy Party has registered candidates in 1,587, Funcinpec in 1,417, the Norodom Ranariddh Party in 1,417. The remaining parties have limited presences, down to the Khmer Improvement Party, which is registered in just one commune.
Funcinpec candidates canvassed rural areas seeking votes by relying on its royal past. Party officials said they were reminding people that the party was established by former King Norodom Sihanouk and remained a royalist party. High-ranking party officials were deployed in Phnom Penh carrying the same message.
Cambodian elections are a time for parties to make their positions known, no matter how big—or small—they are.
The Nang Dara Democratic Movement Party, which has candidates in 129 communes, supports "democracy, a free, multi-party [state], the monarchy [and] border law," Secretary-General Seng Sok Heng told VOA. The party condemns land grabs, illegal immigration, poverty and fake land deeds, he said.
The priority of candidates in 95 communes for the Sangkum Jatiniyun Front Party will be the rule of law, party delegate Prince Sisowath Thomico said.
The party, which was put together this year from a handful of smaller parties, wants "a society that people love, taking the international level as a standard," he said. "The party's priority is to implement the law."
Norodom Ranariddh Party candidates, meanwhile, were moving through their communes distributing fliers and meeting people face to face to make their positions known. The party took a hit earlier this week when its president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison for breech of trust. The prince is out of the country and has said his party would not be hurt by a ruling from CPP-controlled courts.
A high priority for the party is for people to have their own piece of land so they won't leave the country in search of work, spokesman Muth Chantha told VOA Friday.
The party would go after "dishonest merchants" who grab land, or village chiefs who sell community ponds to private companies, for example, Muth Chantha said.
People deserved political participation where development was concerned, rather than face surprise eviction, another continuing problem nationwide, he said.
The political climate was an asset for the party, he said. "The Norodom Ranariddh Party strongly believes that people want leadership change."