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Cablegate: Cambodia Elections: Smaller Parties Report

DE RUEHPF #0570/01 1970212
P 150212Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: While the ruling and main opposition
parties vie for ground in the public spotlight during the
month-long campaign period before Cambodia's July 27 National
Assembly elections, the country's lesser-known parties are
seeking votes without much ado. Smaller party
representatives have generally stated that they have not
experienced major obstacles or incidents during the
pre-election period. Some experienced difficulties in
registering for the elections in May 2008. While they would
prefer a more level playing field compared to the ruling
Cambodian People's Party's advantages, these smaller parties
persevere despite what may be a bleak outlook for capturing
parliamentary seats. Some of the smaller parties stated that
they have strategies to concentrate their efforts in a few
areas instead of on a nationwide campaign; many have
parliamentary candidates on the National Election Committee
lists for nearly all provinces. End Summary.

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Small Parties Report Some Campaign Period Problems
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) Cambodia's smaller, lesser-known political parties
have reported some incidents of discrimination towards their
parties or members during the run-up to the July 27 National
Assembly elections, but they also report that the campaign
period has been peaceful. Before the official campaign
season began on June 26, the Hang Dara Democratic Movement
Party (HDP) reported that some of its new members had been
refused administrative documents by local commune council
members. However, since the campaign period has begun, the
HDP stated that they have not received reports of
intimidation or violence towards their members.

3. (SBU) The Society of Justice Party (SJP) reported that
some of their party signs have been torn, but stated that
they have not submitted official complaints. Prior to the
official campaign period, the SJP reported two different
incidents in two Battambang communes where local commune
council members hassled SJP members when they went to put up
SJP party signs. In the end, both signs went up. The Khmer
Democratic Party (KDP) reported that during a campaign rally
in Kandal province, the party attempted to erect a party sign
near an existing CPP sign. Before they could finish the job,
local CPP commune council members arrived at the site and
told the KDP members that they could not put up the sign.
The KDP reported that the party did not want to provoke
problems, so they erected the sign elsewhere and did not
officially report the incident. (Note: In general,
placement of multiple signs in most locations has not been
reported as a problem in this election campaign. End Note.)
The smaller parties, including the League for Democracy Party
(LDP), reported that the official June 26 to July 25 campaign
period has otherwise been peaceful and without incident.

Playing Field Not Level

4. (SBU) During a meeting with Emboffs, SJP members were
vocal about what they consider to be an unfair playing field
for parties other than the ruling CPP. SJP President and
former FUNCINPEC Deputy Governor of Battambang province Ban
Sophal claimed that CPP members have taken national property
to serve their own interests, such as using government
vehicles and/or government-purchased fuel for personal or
party related travel to the provinces. He also stated that
the CPP is advantaged by being able to use national radio and
television outlets to regularly broadcast information about
the party and incumbent achievements, mainly outside the
official campaign period because such abuses are curtailed
during the campaign period. HDP party members also told
Emboffs that they perceive the media playing field to be
uneven because CPP supporters control many of the media
outlets in Cambodia.

5. (SBU) KDP representatives reported that their party takes
an openly neutral stance towards both the CPP and SRP. Some
HDP party members have reported that there have been
incidents when they have had problems within their villages
and go to the commune council for help, council members have
turned HDP members away, asking the HDP individuals why they
don't go to their own party for help instead. One HDP
representative also stated his perception that in areas where
many villagers belong to a party other than the CPP,
government authorities have not developed that area by
improving infrastructure. He did not provide an example
where that was the case.

PHNOM PENH 00000570 002 OF 003

Difficulties Registering Parties in May 2008

6. (SBU) Some of Cambodia's smaller parties seem to have hit
their biggest snags during the April 28 to May 12
registration period when parties were required to submit
candidate lists to the NEC to be considered contenders for
the July 27 National Assembly elections. According to the
Cambodian election law, political parties must submit to the
NEC a list of candidates throughout the country, with a
number of candidates that is equal to at least one-third of
the seats in the National Assembly -- currently 123 -- plus
one alternate candidate for each titular candidate. A
candidate list could be as short as 82 names, including
alternate candidates. The law requires that all candidates
be registered voters. The HDP, KDP, LDP, SJP, and the United
People's Party (UPP) each reported to Emboffs that they had
names on their candidate lists rejected by the NEC because
the rejected names did not appear on NEC voter registration
lists. The Cambodian-American leader of the Khmer Republican
Party (KRP) admitted to Emboff that he submitted invalid
names because of poor preparation by his advisors. When
Emboffs met with the KDP on May 19, they reported that they
had submitted 286 names to the NEC, 33 of those names were
rejected, and the party was seeking to replace the 33
candidate names. The HDP, LDP, and SJP faced similar
problems during the party registration period. Despite what
appeared to be unnecessary delays, excessive bureaucracy, and
clearly inadequate service at the commune level, the five
parties were finally successful in registering their
candidate names.

United People's Party Not Successful in Registering
--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (SBU) The UPP was not successful in replacing their
rejected names and is out of the National Assembly seat
running. The UPP had initially submitted 105 candidate
names, 25 of which were rejected. The UPP requested
permission from the NEC to reduce their total number of
candidate names, meaning that they requested not to replace
all 25 names on their list. As a compromise, the NEC gave
the party 10 additional days after the final party
registration date on May 12 to submit 25 new names. The UPP
decided to take their request to the Constitutional Council,
and the UPP claims that it also submitted 25 new names to the
Constitutional Council. In the end, the Constitutional
Council decided against the UPP, and the party was not
eligible to run for National Assembly seats.

Small Parties -- What Are Their Chances?

8. (SBU) Among the HDP, KDP, LDP and SJP, only the Hang Dara
Democratic Movement Party won a 2007 commune council seat --
a second deputy commune council chief position in Sitoh
commune of Kandal province. The HDP was established in 2002
by Hang Dara, a former Royalist and member of the opposition
to the Vietnamese occupation after January 1979; he was a
FUNCINPEC member from 1993 to 2002. After running for a
National Assembly seat under his namesake party in 2003, and
losing, he became a Buddhist monk. The party leadership told
Emboffs they have an estimated 200,000 activists for the
party, most in Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kandal, Prey Veng,
and Takeo provinces. They expect they will receive 80,000
votes during the July 27 elections.

9. (SBU) The Khmer Democratic Party won one 2002 commune
council position and during the 2007 commune council election
won 7,685 votes but not a seat. KDP candidates ran for
National Assembly seats in the 1998 and 2003 elections
without success. The party will focus in Kampong Cham this

10. (SBU) The League for Democracy Party is affiliated with
a local NGO that runs a radio program called "The Sound of
the Bell" that broadcasts the party's political platform.
The LDP states that the NGO also conducts public forums two
to three times per month during which the party publicizes
its proposals, seeks members, and collects donations - the
LDP told Emboffs that it collects about USD 200 per public
forum. In 2007, LDP candidates ran for commune council
positions in 25 communes across six provinces and reportedly
received somewhere between 80-100 votes.

11. (SBU) The Society of Justice Party was established two
years ago by Ban Sophal, a former FUNCINPEC deputy governor

PHNOM PENH 00000570 003 OF 003

of Battambang province where the party believes most of its
7,000-plus supporters reside. The party did not have
candidates running in the 2007 commune council election.

12. (SBU) The Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP) was created
last year by Daran Kravanh, a Cambodian-American former
refugee who did well as an official in the Washington State
social welfare agency. He says that he now wants to give
back to Cambodia. Kravanh's Khmer Rouge survival story was
told in a moving account written by his wife Bree Lafreniere
and published by the University of Hawaii Press. In the
televised political party round-tables on state-run TVK,
Kravanh has shown himself to be an able public speaker who
can at least keep a Cambodian audience. His emphasis on rule
of law, fighting corruption, and developing Cambodia out of
its current level of poverty has registered well with some
voters but his voter base is relatively small in Kampong
Speu, Pursat, Battambang and Kampong Cham provinces. He has
worked closely over the years with a group of
non-denominational Christian churches in Cambodia and some of
these adherents help to cultivate support. In an arrangement
with the Social Justice Party, Kravanh has agreed to advocate
his voters support SJP in Battambang, while SJP is supposed
to push for KAPP's support in provinces like Kampong Speu and
Kampong Cham.

13. (SBU) The Khmer Republican Party (KRP) is the brainchild
of Lon Rith, another Cambodian-American and the son of Lon
Nol, the U.S.-backed Cambodian premier in 1970-1975. Lon
Rith returned briefly in the fall of 2007 to formally anoint
the party, established in 2005, but failed to register as a
voter and so cannot run as a candidate in his party. He
returned to Cambodia again in June. He finds most of his
support among his father's former political base, avid
Republicans who had been unhappy with Sihanouk's rule and who
have always embraced America. However, having left Cambodia
at the age of 12, Lon Rith is a halting Khmer speaker and
cannot read Khmer. His public speaking performances do not
appear to attract many voters. The KRP seems to be strongest
in pockets of Phnom Penh, parts of provinces bordering
Vietnam, and Battambang. Lon Rith has expressed strong views
against the Vietnamese, but not as stridently as the
government under his father, which had devastating results
(including massacres of Vietnamese civilian populations
during the early 1970's). Lon Rith is also looking for
support from Khmer Kampuchea Krom voters.

Illegal Immigration a Hot Issue Among Small Parties
--------------------------------------------- ------

14. (SBU) The HDP, KDP, LDP, KRP and SJP have mostly
predictable party platforms such as fighting corruption, and
promotion of democracy. A common (and popular) platform
issue across the five parties is illegal immigration --
during meetings with party representatives, most referred to
immigrants from Vietnam as problematic. HDP members told
Emboffs that they believe many parties focus on illegal
immigrants from Vietnam because people perceive Vietnamese
immigrants as illegally obtaining documents to vote, and that
they vote for the ruling CPP. One HDP representative also
stated his belief that Cambodians worry that Vietnamese
people will "take over" Cambodia.


15. (SBU) During recent pre-election monitoring visits to
various provinces, Emboffs have seen some campaign signs of
the smaller parties along major roads, and even along
stretches of a few dirt roads in more remote villages.
Emboffs stopped to chat with a small kiosk owner along a
dusty stretch of road surrounded by rice paddies in Prey Veng
province. An HDP sign was posted a few feet away. When
asked if people in the village had problems posting any party
signs she said that people in her village were not pressured
to put up any particular signs. However, there were vastly
fewer small party signs than those of the CPP -- a party that
appears to be well-organized in its campaigning in the
provinces -- and the better-known opposition parties such as
the Sam Rainsy Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party. The
low-key campaigning by the smaller parties, and their
probable minimal chances at winning parliamentary seats this
year, has likely helped draw less attention to them as rivals
by the organized ruling party.

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