The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) gained ground against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party in local elections over the weekend, initial tallies indicated Monday, in a boost the opposition party’s leader Sam Rainsy said would help strengthen democracy at the grassroots level.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept the elections for the country’s provincial, municipal, and district councils, winning 2,543 seats to the CNRP’s 769, according to initial tallies released by the CPP.
But the CNRP, invigorated by a strong showing in general elections last year, chalked up a solid increase in the number of seats compared to the opposition’s performance five years ago.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy said that his party, formed by the merger of two main opposition parties nearly two years ago, picked up 185 more seats than the opposition’s haul in the last local elections in 2009.
“The election yesterday was not a surprise, and we have received a favorable result compared to the last election,” he said at a party meeting in the capital Phnom Penh.
“We have increased our seats by 185, and this is a great success. We are gaining more members.”
The CPP’s tally afforded the CNRP five more seats than the CNRP initially claimed for itself.
Trailing behind CPP and CNRP was the royalist Funcipec Party, which got 20 seats, and the League for Democracy, which received one.
More than 11,000 commune councilors cast their ballots for the more than 3,000 seats up for grabs in the elections Sunday.
'More vibrant' democracy
The National Election Committee (NEC), which will issue final results at the end of the month, said the election was conducted peacefully and without any major incidents, wrapping up earlier than expected around 1:30 p.m.
At a press conference in Phnom Penh after the voting concluded, Sam Rainsy accused the CPP of bribery, saying it had spent up to U.S. $5,000 each to get some CNRP councilors to vote for the CPP.
Nevertheless, he said he would accept the results of the election, saying the CNRP’s gains would help strengthen democracy in the country.
"This election shows that the human spirit is more powerful than money trying to buy voters' conscience,” he said, according to comments posted on his Facebook page.
“The CNRP has collected a noticeably higher number of votes and gained many more district and provincial councilor seats, which will make democracy at the grassroots level more vibrant."
Senior CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun rejected Sam Rainsy’s bribery accusations, according to the Cambodia Daily newspaper.
All but three of the country’s 11,459 commune councilors submitted their ballots, generally voting along party lines.
The councilors were elected by popular vote in June 2012, when the CPP won about 72 percent of the total, ensuring its easy victories Sunday.
But at least a handful of CPP-aligned commune councilors appeared to have bucked the party line and cast their ballots for the opposition, CNRP officials said.
The CNRP received 113 votes in Kampong Chhnang province even though it only has 108 commune council members there, they said.
In Prey Veng province, CPP and CNRP members were locked in a two-hour standoff after election officials refused to recognize one ballot critically needed for CNRP to win. After two-hour talks, the NEC agreed to accept the ballot.
The official results will be announced by the NEC on May 30.
Provisional calculations released by the NEC said that in the elections for provincial and capital council seats, the CPP won 8,421 votes, the CNRP 2,973, and Funcinpec 50.
In the elections for general district, Phnom Penh district, and city councils, the CPP received 8,383 votes, the CNRP 2,959, Funcinpec 90, and the League for Democracy 5.
The CNRP’s gains in the local elections come on the heels of strides it made in general elections in July 2013, in which the CPP suffered its worst performance since 1998.
The NEC had declared that the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP has claimed it won at least 63 and boycotted the National Assembly since it started its sessions in September last year.
The party then led mass protests calling for fresh polls. The CPP and CNRP have held negotiations to end their standoff but there has been no breakthrough in sight.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.