The opposition Candlelight Party is calling Sunday’s commune council elections the “worst ever,” alleging they were beset by voter suppression and intimidation, as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) looks set to win by a landslide.
Votes are still being tallied but the preliminary results released by the National Election Committee (NEC), showed that of the 17 political parties that took part in the June 5 polls, only the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Candlelight Party won commune chief positions – with the CPP taking the lion’s share.
The ruling party won 1,648 out of a total 1,652 commune chief positions, while the Candlelight Party won just four – three in Kampong Thom province and one in Kampong Cham.
“We do not recognize the result, the result does not reflect the people’s will,” said the Candlelight Party’s vice president Son Chhay at a press conference on Monday, adding the party would be filing complaints to the NEC over irregularities.
Those include irregularities during the campaigning process as well as on the day of the vote, the party said, adding that during ballot counting on Sunday their political party agents were not allowed to observe the process.
“These abuses indicate vote-rigging,” the party said in a statement.
Chhay said they’d accept the seats they had won “but we accept unhappily.”
Other opposition parties were also disappointed with the election process, saying the intimidation and irregularities experienced were no different to what occurred in the last commune elections.
“The NEC shouldn’t allow police near the polling stations, and should review this for the next election,” Sam In, a spokesman for the Grassroot Democratic Party, said.
However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the election was conducted in a free and fair manner and denied allegations there was misconduct, saying that the losing party always rejects election results.
“If the opposition party does not recognize it, that’s up to them, the main issue is that the Cambodian people recognize it,” he said.
According to the NEC, more than seven million people went to the polls out of some nine million registered voters. There were neither official foreign election observers nor local independent ones. However, according to the NEC, 88,050 political party agents observed the election process.
It was the first commune election since the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned in 2017. During those polls the opposition’s results were impressive and they came close to the CPP, winning 489 commune chief positions and more than 5,007 commune council seats compared to the ruling party’s 6,503 seats.
Then, in November 2017, the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court, one of its leaders, Kem Sokha, was arrested, and more than 100 lawmakers were banned from politics for five years.
This year, rights group LICADHO found irregularities occurred in 16 different capitals and provinces. The watchdog said local authorities and armed soldiers had been present at the polling stations, which was intimidation.
Village, commune and district chiefs had urged voters to go the polls and taken their names and numbers, LICADHO said, while there were also reports of some local authorities visiting individual homes to question residents about who they had voted for.
“Some people were asked by local authorities who they had voted for,” said LICADHO director of operation Am Sam Ath.
A CamboJA reporter covering the election at Veal Sbov Primary School polling station in Phnom Penh was questioned by police officers serving as security guards and the chief of the polling station and was not allowed into the station to take pictures when ballot counting started.
Korn Savang, an election observer with the monitoring group COMFREL, confirmed that the authorities – including village and commune chiefs as well as police – appeared at the polling station and registered voters, which is illegal because it’s threatening behavior that can impact who people vote for.
“The authorities standing by and watching people in the polling station certainly impacts people’s choices,” he said.
However NEC President, Prach Chan, said at a press conference after the polling stations closed that the vote went smoothly. He said irregularities raised by NGOs and some political parties about people being pushed to vote would not affect the outcome.
“As I understand, maybe the authorities just reminded people to go to the polls,” he said.