A decade and a half after the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge capitulated in this northwestern town, the streets are festooned with images of their erstwhile enemy, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is seeking to prolong his 28 years in power in an election on Sunday. In one of the many shifting allegiances of post-genocide Cambodia, former Khmer Rouge soldiers proclaim loyalty to Mr. Hun Sen, who drove them from power in 1979 alongside invading Vietnamese forces, ending their murderous attempt to build a peasant utopia. After retreating here and fighting Mr. Hun Sen well into the 1990s, Khmer Rouge veterans today credit the prime minister with orchestrating peace, building roads and schools, and helping turn Anlong Veng, once shrouded in jungle and studded with land mines, into a moderately prosperous town. This last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge now has 3G Internet access.
“It’s like sports — you should join the winning team,” said Nhem En, a former official photographer for the Khmer Rouge who took the haunting and now notorious images of prisoners before they were executed at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison.
Kong Sing, a former Khmer Rouge medic who lost an eye during the more than two decades of fighting, now works as a veterinarian and lives comfortably in a two-story wooden house. “Of course, it’s strange that we used to be their enemy and now we support them,” he said. “But what should we do? We have had enough of war.”
Yet despite Mr. Hun Sen’s ability to overcome the resistance of even his toughest enemies, he is finding new challenges from other quarters of Cambodian society in the fifth parliamentary election since 1993, when multiparty democracy was restored. Younger, more restless voters, many of whom were born after the Khmer Rouge scourge, take peace for granted. And voters in the increasingly modern capital, Phnom Penh, are tiring of what is effectively one-party rule.