Election campaigns are never clean. The American advocacy groups and political action committees are masters of bending the truth, lying outright, throwing mud at the opponent, and trying to bury him/her along the way. These committees are especially formed for election campaigns in the U. S. Many Western countries have adopted the same methods, including Britain, Germany, and to some extent France (as far as I know).
The committees dig up dirt wherever they can to use it against the respective opponent. No party is immune from this. Some of it is really beyond the pale. Back in the 2004 campaign one such group maintained that the Democratic candidate then, John Kerry (the current Secretary of State), had not commanded a gun boat heroically in the Vietnam War when there was clear evidence to the contrary. They accused of him of lying about his war record. Or more recently, many will remember the birth certificate affair that has been hounding Barack Obama to this day. Some fools still claim he is not a U. S. born citizen. These are just two of the more egregious examples of campaigning in the U.S.
Of course, no one can expect that election campaigns would be better or cleaner in countries like Cambodia, which is practically run like a personal property of and by the party in power. With the overwhelming majority this party holds in the Assembly it is virtually a one-party state. Funcinpec with its one seat in the Assembly and a coalition partner with the ruling CPP looks more like a freeloader than an active and decisive political force. They might even disappear from the scene after this election, not that anyone would miss them.
Then we have the newly formed CNRP – Cambodian National Rescue Party. What I think of them I wrote in a previous post. Not that it would matter greatly in the current constellation, but nevertheless some CPP lawmaker thought up a fine way of getting rid of them in the Assembly altogether. He maintained that since the deputies who were elected as members of the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party and had now switched over to this new CNRP they have no right to keep their seats in the assembly as the CNRP did not take part in the previous election and hence cannot be represented in the Assembly. Strictly speaking, this might be true, at least for the members that were elected by proportionate vote. The ones that were elected directly can switch parties whenever they like, I think; they can become an independent member, although probably without the right to speak, but still with the right to vote. The idea gained steam and was promptly adopted. So all SRP and HRP members all of sudden found themselves without seat and salary, much to their chagrin. In a way it is a complete farce, not worthy of a democracy. I don’t think they did themselves a favor, but then we Westerners think differently. Needless to say, this was heavily criticized in the West, prompting the government to rebuke the U. S. State Department for meddling in its internal affairs.
Apart from that little ‘ruse’ to thwart the opposition’s work, the CPP singled out Kem Sokha to weaken his already fragile position even more. After many years a woman came forward to claim she lived with Kem Sokha and they had adopted two children. After a while he stopped paying her support. This cast a real bad light on Kem Sokha but this is surely no rarity in Cambodia where mistresses are practically the norm with middle-aged men with the means to afford one. Most certainly, this affair coming to light at this point in time was just a coincidence, right? This rather common story was played up in the CPP-oriented media in order to stoke outrage in people for such ‘amoral behavior’.
The prime minister weighed in by calling on Kem Sokha to solve the matter swiftly. He then went on to explain that he once helped a high-ranking opposition member from going to jail who had tried to pay for sex with a 15-year old virgin. He did not mention who it was so the public was left to infer and speculate.
Together with that Tuol Sleng fiasco the leading candidate did not cut such a great figure. Again, the prime minister publicly called on him to apologize or the masses would come out and demonstrate against him. He didn’t, and promptly there was a sizable demonstration at the Tuol Sleng site.
This all goes under the motto ‘Throw enough mud and some of it will stick’. In other countries the candidates themselves refrain from hurling insults at their opponents. Those action committees will do the job for them. But here the prime minister, not one to stay above the fray to begin with when it comes to choosing words, stooped to get involved personally by ridiculing Kem Sokha. That’s not very statesman-like, now is it? Isn’t that a role he apparently likes to play so much?
Of course, Kem Sokha is an amateur in the political arena; his populist pronouncements like the promise of a $25 pension for all retired people sounds so ridiculous that only the most naïve people would believe this. Unfortunately, the majority of the people fall into that category.
But the CPP must somehow intrinsically fear that this new party despite its many weaknesses and shortcomings might gain broader support among the population to break their two-thirds majority that they resort to these kinds of tactics. Or perhaps, they think it is all good fun and a sport for them?