A Tiger Rules the Mountain

The world's longest serving Prime Minister and Cambodia's pursuit of democracy

Election 2018

Chapter 32, Zero Tolerance

‘On the last day of campaigning, I went to the largest rally Cambodia has ever seen, with 250,000 people all wearing light blue or pristine white CPP polo shirts. The main stage was on Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island, but there were too many people to fit into that vast plaza so tens of thousands of people spilled out onto nearby boulevards and parks, watching Hun Sen give his address via gigantic screens.’

“Recently we have taken legal measures to eliminate a group of traitors who attempted to topple a lawful government and to bring the country to war,” boomed Sen. “If we didn’t block them with an iron fist, the country would have come under another war.”

Chapter 32, Zero Tolerance

‘I wandered through the rally, nodding and saying hello to people whose faces remained confused at my presence. Some would wave their CPP flag and smile, and a couple stood near me, nearly building the courage to ask why I was there as we nodded along to bands pumping up the crowd with pop music.’

Possibly not the best rendition of Yol Aularong’s famous song Jeas/Jis Cyclo (Riding my Bicycle)

CPP rally, 2018

Chapter 32, Zero Tolerance

‘After the speeches were done, people began to file away and cavalcades of trucks, cars and motorbikes spread out in different directions throughout the city to spend the day campaigning. As they went, the concluding words of Hun Sen would have been ringing in their ears.’

“Remember this: It is only people who go to vote that support democracy. Those who oppose the election destroy the nation and democracy, which should be handled with zero tolerance.”

TV chart 2018 election

Chapter 35, Five Years Later

‘I sat in a deserted rooftop bar where the rivers Sap and Mekong converge, half-watching national TV on my phone. The election program’s host spent hours presenting bar chart after bar chart from different communes, each time following the same script. Name of the first party on the list; total votes received. Name of the second party on the list; total votes received. Name of the third party on the list; total votes received. The presenter did this all the way to the 20th and last party on the list, the CPP. The bar chart showed a smattering of votes amongst the 19 other parties, barely visible and dwarfed by the CPP’s tower at the end, generally reaching beyond 70%.’