4th June 2012
Tireless NGO workers were choking on their lattes in disbelief here in Phnom Penh as news came through that the Cambodian Peoples’ Party had swept the polls in the commune elections held over the weekend.
The country’s 9.2 million voters were polled to choose councils to administer Cambodia’s 1,633 communes and urban subdistricts known as sangkats.
The Cambodia Daily reports that the ruling CPP scored a comprehensive victory while the Sam Rainsy Party appeared to have lost around six of its previously held 28 seats in the election that saw lower than expected voter turnout.
The Phnom Penh Post reports that, according to preliminary polls results for 14 provinces, the CPP had won control in every commune in nine provinces, including Phnom Penh, and had only lost one commune in three others.
The elections for local governing councils across the country are seen as the key indicator of public opinion ahead of general elections in 2013.
While ten political parties were vying for seats, none appear to have challenged the ruling party’s iron grip on power, much to the exasperation of the local NGO community.
“The ruling party has used state property and civil servants to help campaign for the sake of its own party interests,” said Koul Panha, executive director of election monitoring group COMFREL.
Nevertheless, while the system is clearly skewed in favour of the CPP, at least opposition parties are tolerated here, unlike next door in Vietnam or Laos. Most voters, however, recognise the futility of voting for any of the minority opposition parties as they fail to provide the necessary patronage network connections you need to get ahead here in Cambodia.
The real surprise is the lengths the ruling party goes to to ensure victory as most observers are convinced that even if elections were comprehensively free and fair, the CPP would likely win a convincing victory.
The CPP has strong rural support and overwhelmingly won both previous local elections in 2002 and 2007.
In the 2007 commune elections, the Cambodian People’s Party won 1,592 of 1,633 communes. It was followed by the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party with 28 communes and royalist Funcinpec Party, which won two communes.