Cambodian elections for government office are held every 5 years and today over 9, 675, 000 registered Cambodians will vote for the nation’s next leader.
The longer I spend in Cambodia the more I love it but simple tasks such as getting a bus can come with its own trials and tribulations. Holding a national election, it seems, is no exception.
Back in Australia we arrive at a polling booth, submit our vote and continue on with our day. This is not the case in Cambodia.
First off, there are two parties vying for leadership: the Cambodian People’s Party (or number 4), who currently hold the office, and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (or number seven).
I have heard mixed reviews on who will win. Largely it is assumed that the Cambodian People’s Party will win again and Prime Minister Hum Sen will continue in the position he has held since 1985. However, many younger Khmer people that I have spoken to agree that it is time for a change and as a result support is growing for the opposition.
The Cambodia Daily newspaper is reporting that if the Cambodia National Rescue Party win the military may stage a coup d’état to remove them from office. This is a scary thought for us visitors to the country however, the newspaper also indicates that this may be a scaremongering tactic on behalf of the Cambodian People’s Party.
When I first arrived in Phnom Penh two weeks ago there were small rallies of people from both parties doing laps of the nation’s capitol on motorbikes, tuk tuks and cars with loud speakers blaring Cambodian music and chants in support of their preferred party.
On my return to the city a few days ago there was a noticeable change. The rallies had quadrupled in size and were now joined by trucks and busses with live bands on board. Even the smallest tuk tuk ride could end in a 20 minute detour surrounded by happy smiling Cambodians waving flags and proudly displaying their party’s emblem on their shirts and hats.
All Cambodian people are required to return to their home town or village to vote. As a result many hotels, restaurants and bars will be operating on skeleton staff or closing from 27 to 29 July. The roadsides leading out of Phnom Penh now have makeshift stages set up to show support for a preferred party with music, dancing and even karaoke!
Additionally, in an interesting twist the government has banned the selling of alcohol to local people the night before the election so they don’t miss the vote! By the sounds of it, Cambodians plan to make up for it tonight as we have been invited to ‘end of voting’ drinks by some of the local hotel staff.
Traveling anywhere prior to the election was a nightmare as hoards of people travelled home to vote, often crammed in the back of open air trucks. Both my bus ride from Kep to Phnom Penh on Wednesday and from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap on Friday were halted repeatedly when the traffic grew too dense. However, a ban was put on all rallies 24 hours before the election and the streets of Siam Reap are pretty quiet now… except for the constant shouts of ‘tuk tuk Miss?’
One of the hot topics on both sides is reclaiming ownership of the nation’s heritage sites and this is incredibly relevant to my visit to Siam Reap. The city is a tourist hot spot that is used as a ‘launching pad’ to visit the hundreds of ancient temples (or wats) that are scattered throughout the province. The most famous being Angkor Wat and the popularised Ta Prohm temple that featured in the Tomb Raider film. From what I have heard there is some sort of Vietnamese owned umbrella organisation that manages the temple visits, meaning that all earnings do not stay within Cambodia.
We are happy to be staying put in Siam Reap until Wednesday when the whole affair should be over with. The winner will be announced between August 14 and September 8 and it will be interesting to see the result.