Cambodia’s ruling party scored a landslide victory in local elections over the weekend, preliminary results revealed Monday, as opposition parties and election monitors complained of irregularities in the country’s third ever commune-level vote.
Early returns received by the country’s election committee showed a strong victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), sweeping 1,593 of the 1,633 commune chief posts in the country, up one from the previous election in 2007.
The remaining 40 posts went to the opposition—22 for the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and 18 for the Human Rights Party (HRP). Both parties said they would have had stronger gains if election conditions had been less biased toward the ruling party.
The SRP refused to accept the preliminary election results due to voter irregularities, saying that intimidation of voters had worsened since the previous election.
“The Sam Rainsy Party does not accept the results of this election because many voters could not vote because, even though political violence in the period ahead of the election declined [compared to previous commune elections], intimidation has increased,” SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said.
Yim Sovann called for reform of the National Election Committee (NEC), saying its members are biased toward the ruling party.
The CPP, which has ruled the country for three decades, easily won the country’s previous two commune-level elections in 2002 and 2007 that were marred by political violence and other problems.
Yim Sovann said that the SRP, which had expected to win at least 150 commune seats, has filed complaints with every polling station but election officials have refused to receive them.
HRP President Kem Sokha said his party would have received more votes if the NEC were not biased toward the ruling party and there were fewer problems with voting conditions.
Thun Saray, director of the Cambodian rights watchdog ADHOC, said the irregularities in the election had marred the results.
“At some polling stations, election officials prevented election monitors from monitoring the vote,” he said.
He said that government authorities had intimidated voters at polling stations and the guarantees against voting twice were not firmly in place.
“There was the presence of authorities at each polling station … and the black ink [used to mark those who had already cast their ballots] was erasable,” Thun Saray said.
Election officials at polling stations were unfamiliar or careless with election procedures and sometimes allowed those without names on voter registration lists to vote, he said.
Monitoring group Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) held a press conference Monday on problems in the election conditions, saying the country's media is biased toward the ruling party.
The group accused the CPP of illegally using state property, civil servants, and intimidation by the armed forces in their campaign, but said it would decide whether or not to recognize the results after further investigation.
“We have not rejected the whole election results yet,” Comfrel Director Koul Panha said, explaining that the group will not recognize the official results if it finds problems at more than 30 percent of the polling stations.
Comfrel had said previously that it had found at least 100 cases of intimidation, vote-buying, and the destruction of parties’ leaflets and logos during the pre-election campaign period, and that at least 1.5 million voters were unable to cast their ballots due to incorrect voter registration lists.
The NEC said Monday 5.87 million of the country’s 9.2 million eligible voters had cast their votes in an election the committee’s president Im Sousdey called free and fair.
Sunday’s elections for local governing councils are seen as a key indicator of public opinion ahead of the general election coming up next year.
The commune chief positions are counted among 11,459 commune councilor seats up for grabs nationwide, of which the CPP won 8,283; the SRP, 2,155; and the HRP, 800, according to the preliminary results.
The remaining seats went to the Funcinpec Party and the Norodom Ranarridh Party, which took 160 and 53 commune councilor seats, respectively, but no commune chief slots.
The SRP’s total of 22 commune chiefs represent a loss from the 28 the party won in the previous election, as the party loses ground to the HRP, which was formed just after the 2007 vote.
The two parties have an alliance to challenge the CPP in the 2013 general election.
Five other parties also competed in Sunday’s vote without winning any seats.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.