Rural Villagers Put Friendship Before Politics

phnom srok district, Banteay Meanchey province – In some villages across the country, party signs are torn down or defaced, their owners threatened or killed. That kind of election intimidation is documented, complaints are filed, and the run-up to the im­pending election goes on.

But a more accurate representation of most of Cambodia’s rural villages might be found in Trai­paing Thmar Kheung Cheung, an average village of farmers, who, passionate as they may be in politics, are, at the end of the day, just an average village of farmers.

In the middle of the village, a Funcinpec sign stands in front of one house. Next door, someone has put up a CPP sign. And across the narrow, rutted road, a man has put up a Sam Rainsy Party sign.

In the volatile world of Cam­bodian politics, this kind of thing can lead to a shooting, a stabbing or, at the very least, taunting or vandalism. But here, the CPP’s logo—a Thevara spirit blessing the land with flowers—and the can­dle of Sam Rainsy and the stately face of Funcinpec Pres­ident Prince Norodom Ranariddh all reside peacefully next to each other.

“For this village, there’s no problem at all,” said Khuth Khuon, 32, CPP chief of Trai­paing Thmar Kheung Cheung, whose house displays the Fun­cinpec sign.

The sign was put there by his father-in-law, who won’t take it down, even though Khuth Khuon has told him the village chief’s house should be neutral ground.

“For me, it doesn’t matter about the party signs,” he said. “But this is the village chief’s home.”

The father-in-law won, though, and the party sign stayed up.

The rest of the village is split between loyalty to the three main parties. “They have different opinions and different love for the parties,” Khuth Khuon said, and a crowd of villagers gathered around him agreed.

Those allegiances lead to little more than quiet discussions, Khuth Khuon said, and the crowd agreed.

“We are neighbors, we are relatives, but we can have different support for political parties,” Khuth Khuon said.

The crowd agreed.

The only thing that has changed around here, he said, is that people are preoccupied with the election.

“What we feel now, we are thinking about the election,” he said. “But after the election, we are carefree. We will just go to the field.”

Sun Moeurn, 43, who hung up the Sam Rainsy Party sign, said the same thing.

“I’m not worried at all in this village,” he said. “For this village, any villager can vote for whomever they want, and support whatever party they wish. For me, too.”

He, too, will be relieved after the elections, so that he can focus on more important things.

“After the election, I will feel OK, and I’ll just go to the field, as normal.”

 

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