About the elections, land dispute and special guests in Battambang
28.07.2008 - 08.08.2008 29 °C
In contrast to Europe, where things go very quiet come July because everyone is on holiday, the last 4-5 weeks here Cambodia were the busiest time since I came. Not one 3-5-day long public holiday like we had in April and May but instead the run-up to the national election on 27 July, the Thai-Cambodian land dispute over Preah Vihear and other border areas and then local things happening here like moving office and a short but very nice visit from Lindha and Toei, which rounded it all up perfectly.
The elections were a big thing and interesting to watch. I think they had 11 parties up for election but all but maybe 3 completely marginal with no real chance at all. The communist party (CPP) of prime minister Hun Sen dominated the game by far and as I heard, it was never a question of whether they would win again but only by how much and whether they will get enough to rule by themselves without coalition. Since 1993, the government was formed by a coalition between CPP and FUNCINPEC (royalist party), which was quite a struggle for both most of the time. So CPP changed the law to allow a party to rule with single majority instead of two thirds as before. However, this wouldn't really have been neccessary as CPP won around 91 of 123 seats anyway. It is significant though I think because this is the first time this happens since free elections first took place in 1993. Voter turnout was pretty high as well, even though there were some outcries in Phnom Penh that many voters known to vote for the opposition weren't on the registration lists and couldn't vote. The opposition party wanted a revote in PP but this went completely quiet after a few days. Haven't heard anything since.
Anyway, the main thing I could observe here in terms of campaigning were the large party convoys going through the streets. Masses of motos, cars and trucks full of people in party t-shirts, waving flags and blasting music and slogans thoughs big speakers (a bit like after a football game in parts of German cities). People sat on the back of the trucks and pick-ups on the ever popular plastic chairs or wodden boards, some looking rather bored. It seemed to me very much like just mass mobilisation without much athmosphere or spirit though. Just a lot of people. Later I heard that these guys were paid to take part in the convoys. The ones with cars the most, then motos and people just sitting on the backs got the least. Amazing, aye? I think, money ranged from $1-5 or so. Our cleaner at the office was invited, too, but she said the money was too little and sitting all day on a truck was too painful, so she didn't go. So much for the party spirit then...
All of it was very peaceful and even though I once got caught in the middle of a waiting convoy blocking a street completely, people were laughing and smiling and moving everything to let me go across with my bike.
Photo: A small part of a CPP party campaign convoy passing by my house
In terms of Preah Vihear temple and the Thai-Cambodian land dispute things still don't look good but seem to have calmed down a bit after several talks between the countries. They had agreed already to withdraw troops and stop the stand-off there. this apparently happened in some areas, while apparently trenches are being dug out in other areas. Nothing much to do apart from wait and see, I guess. Anyway, for personal safety I don't worry. It is a long way away from here (maybe not when you look on the map but travelling time is about a day at least).
Weatherwise, the rainy season has now finally properly begun, I think. We're having many really cloudy days with rains about once a day. Sometimes the mornings are sunny and beautiful and then the clouds come in later on. And when it rains, it rains properly ... Its usually easy to predict about 30min before, so there's time to find shelter or at least get the waterproof on. These are the better days, I think. For the last few days its been cloudy all day though and not so much heavy rain. But the clouds and lack of sun make it feel strangely northern European, just hotter. Not the best, I think... Hope the downpour and sun mix comes back soon. The one advantage of it all is that it does cool down a bit - below 30 degrees now - and I can sleep without a fan most nights.
Photo: This was a big shower - flooding the street for hours afterwards
Last weekend, I had my first real international visitors over: Lindha and Toei from Sweden who were travelling Thailand, Toei's home country. I was so excited that they could arrange to come to Cambodia for a bit but unfortunately they caught the bad weather as well. We still managed to visit a nearby temple and strolled around town for the rest of the time. Very nice - thanks, guys, I hope you did enjoy (I certainly did!), despite all the long travel times and the lack of sleep. I'm now endulging Swedish reindeer cream cheese from the tube on crisp bread - the wine is reserved for special moments.
Photo: The proof - international visitors (Lindha and Toei) in Battambang!
On Sunday after the two headed back to Thailand, my landlady came around with loads of other people and a pick-up truck full of oranges from her farm outside town. They unloaded everything under my house and then started sorting the harvest according to size to get it ready for sale in the market here later on. August is orange month here and Battambang is THE orange place in the country. Everybody goes a bit mad about them. They are certainly nice but nohing exceptional, I'd say. But maybe this is because no Spanish orange or so has ever made it to Cambodia for comparison. The ones here are rather small, green on the outside and full of pips but if you cut everything off, the flesh tastes nice.
Photo: My landlandy (in the middle holding up the oranges) and family and friends sorting oranges on a Sunday afternoon
During last week, we also moved to a new office together with the same 2 organisations we were sharing with before. We are now in a rather posh-looking villa because we were kicked out of the other building because they're pulling it down and building a guest house and car dealer there, I think. Shame but our new room here is nicer and even has 2 windows (no windows in our old place). I got really excited about this while our assistant instantly thought about how to cover the windows to block out the sun light and heat. Curtains are the compromise now ;-)
Photo: Our new office - the typical NGO mansion like many others here (we only have 1 room though)
Then I also had a 2-day trip to Phnom Penh for work, one leaving party of an Australian volunteer and another one to come on Sunday. Plus a training preparations for our NGOs for next week. You see, I'm still not getting bored here...
Keep writing and commenting, please. Love to hear from you from time to time as well.
Sok sabai! (good luck - people use it as a greeting or good bye here)