Ruling CPP Reported Winner as Commune Vote Draws Record Turnout

cambodia-vote-06042017.jpg Cambodian people line up at a polling station in the capital Phnom Penh on June 4, 2017.

A Cambodian government-affiliated media outlet reported victory for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) on Sunday as millions of Cambodians turned out for commune council polls, a record turnout in a test of public opinion ahead of 2018 general elections.

According to Fresh News, unofficial results showed the CPP won 22 provinces while the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won two major cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as in Kompong Cham province.

With more than 85 percent of the Southeast Asian country's 7.86 million registered voters casting ballots in rural commune and urban sangkat council elections, the CPP secured 1163 commune/sangkat chief posts, the CNRP won 482; and one commune leader post went to the Khmer National United Party, Fresh News said.

Final official results of the two-week contest for 1,646 commune council posts will not be announced until June 25, but preliminary results will be released between Sunday and Tuesday, the National Election Commission (NEC) said.

"The election has been conducted properly without any interference," NEC chairman Sik Bunhok told a news conference in Phnom Penh.

"Based on the preliminary figures we received so far, there are total of 6,743,329 voters come to vote, which is equivalent to 85.74 percent. So this is the highest voter turnout," he said, adding that no province had turnout below 80 percent. Turnout was 65.1 percent for the previous communal election in 2012.

"Political parties conducted their election campaigns in a manner showing their political maturity, with more understanding and tolerance and respect for legal principles, regulations and procedures," said Sik Bunhok.

Long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the main opposition CNRP and 10 smaller political parties competed in what has been seen as a bellwether for 2018 parliamentary elections.

“This morning, my wife and I have already fulfilled our obligations as citizens by going to cast ballots for electing commune/sangkat councilors," Hun Sen posted to his official Facebook page Sunday.

"I appeal to our citizens to go to vote and participate in maintaining the order of this election for the success of our nation.”

CNRP President Kem Sokha also used Facebook to say “I’ve already fulfilled my obligation as a Khmer citizen by going to vote at 10 a.m. this morning.”

The 14-day campaign period that began on May 20 was relatively calm, but took place against the backdrop of frequent warnings from Hun Sen, who has ruled for nearly 32 years, that opposition victories on Sunday and in parliamentary polls in 2018 will bring chaos, instability and war to Cambodia. Hun Sen's government had since 2015 harassed and threatened jail sentences for key CNRP leaders in a wider crackdown on civil society.

Hun Sen also warned opposition parties against challenging the outcome of Sunday’s vote, saying the country’s courts could dissolve the parties for doing so. The CNRP nearly unseated Hun Sen in 2013 elections and claimed it only lost due to voter fraud.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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