Opposition Leader Courts Muslim Vote in New Eastern Province

Drawing on the majority-Muslim nations of Indonesia and Malaysia as examples for Cambodia to emulate for better government, opposition leader Sam Rainsy led a group of lawmakers stumping for votes in Cham Muslim villages in Tbong Khmum province on Saturday.

The ruling CPP has long had a stranglehold on the Cham vote, with influential community elders remaining loyal to the party for its unprejudiced treatment of Muslims after the downfall of the Khmer Rouge, which had pursued policies of forced and violent assimilation.

In this photograph posted on CNRP President Sam Rainsy's Facebook page, a crowd of mostly Cham Muslims attend a public forum hosted by Mr. Rainsy in Tbong Khmum province's Dambe district on Saturday.
In this photograph posted on CNRP President Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page, a crowd of mostly Cham Muslims attend a public forum hosted by Mr. Rainsy in Tbong Khmum province’s Dambe district on Saturday.

A couple hundred Cham Muslims nevertheless turned out to see Mr. Rainsy speak in Dambe district’s Seda commune on Saturday, with the opposition leader lauding Indonesia and Malaysia’s political systems.

“I respect these two countries, which we can take as a model for Cambodia right now to make the country clean,” Mr. Rainsy said, before listing the lessons he said Cambodia could learn from its neighbors.

“Don’t commit pervasive corruption, as is occurring now. Don’t destroy the nation, as is occurring now. Don’t destroy the livelihoods of the people, as is occurring now. Don’t destroy our children’s future, as is occurring now.”

“Go look at Indonesia and Malaysia. There is no such destruction over there,” Mr. Rainsy said, slamming pervasive land-grabbing in Cambodia as “a bad deed, regardless of the religion we follow.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Sunday that he was not concerned by Mr. Rainsy’s weekend politicking, accusing the CNRP leader of exaggeration.

“What he said is the everyday act of being an opposition party. If he did not say that, how could he be an opposition party?” said Mr. Eysan.

“We do not have any concerns. The people cannot be cheated easily now, as they think and consider what they hear,” he said. “The government is working every day to bring the country toward rule of law and democracy.”

Contacted Sunday, Mr. Rainsy said the loyalties of the Cambodian Muslim community have been changing as increasing numbers of its youth study overseas.

“Many Cham have been to Malaysia—or are still in Malaysia—and in Malaysia, they see a different country,” he said. “It is more progressive, more prosperous, and with a lot of work and jobs, and they want Cambodia to be as progressive and socially developed as Malaysia.

“The other factor is that the Cham are victims of land grabbing and find common ground with the rest of the community, wanting a change in the system, with less corruption. It is interesting and really challenging for the CNRP to move into their community,” he added.

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