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Haircuts and songs: Cambodia ruling party draws colourful support before poll

AFP logoAFP 7/26/2018 Suy SE and Joe FREEMAN
Khan Mae says the custom cut, which includes the party letters (CPP) and number (20) on the ballot, took two hours © Provided by AFP Khan Mae says the custom cut, which includes the party letters (CPP) and number (20) on the ballot, took two hours

Comedian Khan Mae was thinking of creative ways to show his devotion to Cambodia's ruling party ahead of Sunday's controversial elections, so he had its logo -- an angel -- shaved onto his head.

"I wanted to do something different," the 39-year-old told AFP Thursday at his home near the Phnom Penh airport, adding that the custom cut, which includes the party letters (CPP) and number (20) on the ballot, took two hours.

He is planning on wearing it during one of many pro-party rallies across the country Friday, where hundreds of thousands are set to cheer for the only show in town: Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for 33 years.

Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolved the opposition in a ruling in November after Hun Sen accused it of plotting against the government, lining up an election with no real challenger.

The leader has stacked the courts and security services with allies and family members but Khan Mae, a comedian who performs under the stage name "Skeleton Man," is among the many entertainers in the country who have devoted time -- and headspace --- to those in power.

Because of its influence the party can draw support from well-known Cambodian singers, actors and musicians, all of whom attended campaign rallies ahead of the July 29 polls.

"Most of the celebrities, they support CPP," the 39-year-old said.

Nineteen other parties are competing but there is scant sign of them in the capital, which has a subdued air compared to the last election in 2013.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party won more than 44 percent of the vote in 2013. Now they are banned.

Five former opposition members in the northern province of Battambang were fined $2,500 each after being accused of endorsing a boycott of Sunday's ballot.

Storefronts in the capital sell ruling Cambodian People's Party clothing while cars and tuk-tuks bear stickers promoting it.

Along a road leading into the city several of the lesser party signs appeared next to each other, with little evidence of activity.

Tuon Oeun, city leader for the Cambodian Nationality Party, said he was confident they would do well in the polls, despite having had little success before.

"We have never won any seats," he said.

The US and EU have pulled assistance for the election, which rights groups have slammed as not genuine.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Thursday that getting rid of the opposition and banning senior members from politics means the election "cannot possibly reflect the will of the Cambodian people.”

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