Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Rumor Mill

The post-election rumor mill is in full swing in Cambodia, most, probably the vast majority easily proven untrue on even a little investigation. Some of the rumors are unconfirmable either way. This is nothing new to Cambodian elections. Rumor mongering has been a major part of the Cambodian election environment since the first elections in 1993. Clearly, such rumors are often designed to be manipulative and can contribute to an atmosphere of fear and anger and sometimes lead to violence. False rumors of soup poisoning during the 1998 post-election demonstrations probably contributed to some of the anti-Vietnamese violence that occurred. In 2003, I complained to several Cambodians about the sheer volume of obviously suspect rumors, asking, somewhat rhetorically, of some of my more educated Cambodia friends "why would you believe this garbage?" One man explained by saying “It’s all we have.” Given the state's tight control on Khmer language media, I had to admit he had a point. Information vacuums are breeding grounds for stuff like this.

The following are some rumors heard and collected before and after the 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections. Many of the same rumors were told during different elections, sometimes with little or no variation. NONE of these rumors are from the current election, though you will probably find that some of these old rumors are being recirculated in various forms this election.

I repeat, NONE of these rumors are from the current election and most if not all are UNTRUE. DO NOT pass them on.

Chea Sim and a split in the party

There is currently a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. (1998)

There is currently a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. The Hun Sen faction is trying to identify potentially disloyal military commanders and local officials. (2003)

There is a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. (2008)

The USA backs the Chea Sim faction of the CPP. (2003)

The CPP Steering Committee held a secret meeting last week in which they voted 80 to 23 in favor of making Chea Sim Prime Minister. (2003)

Demonstrations and security

Opposition activists were part of the pro-CPP demonstration in Phnom Penh. The opposition activists committed some of the violence that occurred in order to make the CPP look bad. (1998)

There will be simultaneous demonstrations by the CPP and the losing parties in Phnom Penh, perhaps prompting fighting and riots. (2003)

There will be demonstrations and perhaps riots in Phnom Penh on and after August 8th, the beginning coinciding with the announcement of the election results. (2003)

There will be demonstrations in Phnom Penh on or around August 15th. (2003)

There will be demonstrations in Phnom Penh on or around October 15th. (2003)

The CPP was arranging to employ people in Svay Rieng to act as demonstrators in new demonstrations (possibly anti-American and/or pro-election) in Phnom Penh. (2003)

Opposition candidates and officers are quietly sneaking out of the country using overland routes to Thailand. (2003)

The police are preparing to arrest all FCP candidates, officers and activists. (1998, 2003)

Unexplained and seemingly random arrests of common people such as moto and cyclo drivers are occurring in Phnom Penh. (1998, 2003)

A travel permit system is being created and will be implemented in the near future. Its purpose will be to control and limit inter-provincial travel. (2003)

A new ID card or Family Book system is going to be implemented country wide. (2003)

Hun Sen

Hun Sen’s recent “very cruel” actions can be explained by his addiction to opium. He smokes it all the time in specially made cigarettes. Everybody has seen him smoke during his TV interviews. His driver says that he smokes two of these cigarettes on the drive between Takamao and Phnom Penh. (2003)

During the crackdown, some students and monks were fed to and eaten alive by crocodiles at Takmao. The people that live near Takmao could hear the screams. Two bags of heads (which the crocodiles could not or did not want to eat) were disposed of elsewhere. (1998)

Under pressure from recent events, Hun Sen is on an opium smoking binge. You can tell by his black lower lip. When he is binging like this he becomes very unpredictable. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Rumors of war

There has been a buildup of military and police in Preah Sdach and other areas of the Prey Veng province.(2003)

Regular military has been moved closer to Phnom Penh. (1998, 2003)

Neak Bun Chhay has gone to Battambang to recruit FCP soldiers. (1998)

The military, particularly the MPs, are preparing for something big, perhaps a move on Phnom Penh. They now have a list of opposition people who will be rounded up if something happens. (2003)

Phnom Penh is being secretly surrounded by soldiers and MPs. (2003, 2008)

Military forces have been concentrated around Phnom Penh in order to defend the city from opposition forces. (1998, 2003)

Neak Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal are planning to lead several western provinces in secession from the country. (1998)

A plane dropped leaflets over Battambang that call for Prince Ranariddh to be removed from the head of FUNCINPEC. The leaflet purports to be from elements within FUNCINPEC, but people speculate that it is part of a CPP plot to sow division in FUNCINPEC.  (1998)

The US and rumors of foreign involvement

The US Congress has declared Hun Sen a war criminal. Congress is now waiting for the President to ratify the bill. (1998)

US warships and planes are preparing to attack Phnom Penh and arrest Hun Sen. (1998)

The USA is preparing to assist Gen. Neak Bun Chhay in a military offensive against Phnom Penh. (1998)

If the US declares Hun Sen a war criminal, all SRP activists and US Observers will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If the negotiations in Siem Reap fail, all SRP activists and US Observers will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If FCP and CPP come to an agreement in Siem Reap, all SRP activists will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If the US declares Hun Sen a war criminal, Hun Sen will split the country militarily and set up an autonomous zone in the eastern provinces. (1998)

The US is sending an aircraft carrier to the region to help defend the SRP when SRP wins the election. (1998, 2003)

The US will attack Cambodia and oust Hun Sen if SRP loses. (2003, 2008)

Before the vote

Vietnamese are immigrating to Cambodia in much greater numbers in order to participate in the elections and vote for the CPP. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Village chiefs will organize people to ‘telegraph’ vote on Election Day. (2003)

Ballot boxes have been copied and will be used to replace the real ballot boxes when they are transported from the polling station to the counting center. (2003)

Blank ballots have been stolen from the printer by the CPP. Somebody inside the NEC has revealed the ballot stamps to the CPP. The CPP has already stamped and marked all of the ballots. Village chiefs will distribute the marked ballots to people on the night of July 26th. People will sneak the pre-marked ballot into the polling station, exchange it for the real ballot and drop the pre-marked ballot in the ballot box. (2003)

The CECs have received instruction to pre-mark the ballots for the ruling party. (2003, 2008)

The Vietnamese

Vietnamese are immigrating to Cambodia, particularly in Prey Veng, in much greater numbers this month in order to participate in the elections and vote for the CPP. They are settling in Pear Ro and Peam Chor districts. (2003)

Vietnam have moved artillery to the border area opposite Preah Sdach and aimed it into Cambodia. (2003)

The Vietnamese army has moved up to the border. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Vietnamese are serving poison soup at the market to try to kill Khmers. (1998)

Vietnamese are infiltrating into Cambodia for unknown purposes, perhaps to act as soldiers in hiding in preparation to support the CPP militarily in case of war, perhaps to dig wells for the CPP. (1998, 2003)

There is an underground force of ethic-Vietnamese police and soldiers, disguised as common people, who will be called on by Hun Sen if war breaks out. (1998, 2003)

Uniformed Vietnamese troops were seen in Battambang province over a month ago. (2003)

Uniformed Vietnamese troops were seen in hiding south of Phnom Penh. (2008)

Vietnamese troops are in Hun Sen’s compound at Takmao preparing to defend the CPP in case of war. (2003)

Vietnam is poised to attack Cambodia along the Prey Veng and Svay Rieng borders. (1998, 2003)

Vietnam will invade if there is any violence against the ethnic-Vietnamese in Cambodia. (2003)

Vietnamese voters were issued two, three, and sometimes as many ballots as they asked for at polling stations in Prey Veng. (2003, 2008)

Vietnamese in Preah Sdach district have been taunting Khmers, saying, ‘now your party loses, we win, you won’t get a seat.’ (2003)

There has been a sudden influx of illegal Vietnamese into the country, as the illegal Vietnamese already in Cambodia call their friends and relatives to come join them now that the CPP has won. (2003)

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