A Tiger Rules the Mountain

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

Election 2022

Rozedth, her husband and I

Chapter 42, Candlelight

Ratanak and Rozeth had married just three months earlier, in March 2022, although they had known each other for 15 years as Ratanak is the son of Eng Chhai Eang, a former Vice President of the CNRP. He too grew up in a family supporting Sam Rainsy. Traditionally, weddings take place in the hometown of the bride, but they chose to have theirs in Phnom Penh where many of their family friends lived.

“Were the people in O’Char [commune] happy when you told them that you would stand again?”, I asked

“When I went house to house, I heard the voices of villagers directly and they encourage me and wish me success in this election. It seems that they are happy. The CPP target O’Char Commune though, really target to make sure that they win. They try to threaten the people not to involve with me. The absence of our party for five years makes the people feel nervous to support us, to show their support.”

“Have people become less nervous in the last few weeks or more nervous?”

“The people have seen what the CPP did to our party so people feel nervous and not dare to say whether they support us or not. But they will reveal the truth on election day.”

Chapter 42, Candlelight

“What is the Candlelight candidate like in your commune? Do you know them?”, I asked Chamroeun

“I see them, they ride through but I don’t know them. No idea. But I know the CPP Commune Chief. He is good. He is popular.”

“Do you think the Candlelight Party will do well?”

“Not as well as CNRP. Only began to organize four months ago. And difficult to get candidates because of pressure.”

Chapter 43, Chicken House

‘He explained that things had improved because some Chinese had left due to COVID and the Government closing online gambling operations. Then there was a pause before he said: “You may not know but there was an election today.’

“Hmmm, I heard. Have you been watching the results?”

“No, no point. There is only one. No other party. Even I, I vote for them.”

Chapter 44, The Elephant and a Mouse

Small Rotha, nearing 40 and with high blood pressure, did not doubt the results: “Some people for CNRP last time, but when no more CNRP, they vote CPP. The Candlelight come but don’t know who’s the leader. Like my parents at the province, yeah, just follow majority in the village.”

Chapter 28, Charm Offensive

‘Sophea’s team also organised doctors to visit the remote villages, a highly valued servicee. In the final few weeks before the election, Sophea would stay there permanently, only coming back to Phnom Penh for a day or two every week. They would organise entertainment every night such as music and dancing or project a film…Many villagers came to the entertainment organised which Sophea put down to the influence of the Village Chief.’

Sophea, always wearing a CPP polo-shirt, established a bond with the villagers, which went beyond a political transaction: “The first time [going], I was a bit tired, but later, once we speak and had been going for a while, I feel the same as my team – I miss them [the villagers].”

Note: this was filmed by me in Battambang and not in Sophea’s village. It is a representation only.

Chapter 44, The Elephant and a Mouse

‘I asked Hang Puthea, the NEC member, how he defined free and fair as it was clear that the NEC and CPP had a very different opinion to the Candlelight Party and others. At this point, Puthea, who had always talked freely without notes in all my previous interviews with him, reached into his blazer pocket, pulled out a notebook and began to read from it:

“For free and fair in Cambodia, free means that every citizen who can vote has free decision to vote for any party they like and fair means that everyone has the same period to prepare and campaign.”

Galleries & Excerpts

Read exceprts alongside images and videos from the moments in the book.

The Tigers

Meet the three tigers who have vied for control of Cambodia – although only one has ever ruled.

About me

A Scottish boy who found himself iin Cambodia, falling in love with the place.

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