Cambodian-American community activists and analysts have said that the recent local elections that saw the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party win a large share of the vote was a positive development for Cambodian democracy.
The commune elections on June 4 saw an estimated 90 percent of the electorate cast a ballot, with the CNRP increasing the number of commune councils under their control from 40 to more than 400.
Official results of the election will be announced by the National Election Committee towards the end of the month.
Yap Kimtung, president of the Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, in Virginia, said the high voter turnout and large vote share for the opposition would help “bring justice to our country.”
“If only one party is strong, it can do whatever it wants, which can be against the people’s will,” he said.
He encouraged people who did not vote in the local elections to make sure they could do so ahead of the next general election, scheduled for 2018.
Nem Chhoeung, president of the Khmer Town Association, based in Georgia, predicted that the commune elections had changed the political landscape of Cambodian politics.
“In the game of democracy, when two parties have comparable strength, it is hard to abuse or use violence against the other side,” he said. “The tone must be reduced, too.”
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen has held power for more than 30 years.
Prior to the election, Hun Sen and other senior CPP officials issued warnings that a victory for the opposition could lead to “civil war”.
Social analyst Hengthal Savuth said such threats were no longer an effective means for the CPP to scare away opposition voters.
“This election is a victory for the opposition. The ruling party’s claim of victory is just to hide their failure,” he said.
Preliminary results showed that the CNRP had done well in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham. The final results of the election will be announced by the National Election Committee on June 25.
Several of the CNRP candidates were young, prompting criticism from ruling party supporters that they were ill-equipped to handle the responsibility of office.
Nem Chhoeung, however, disagree.
“The newcomers do not come with nepotism or having been involved in corruption, which is normally the case with those who have been in power for too long,” he said. “I believe they will serve the people better.”
But Kuch Schanley, an analyst from Maryland, said there was still much work to do to combat intimidation from the authorities ahead of the general election.
“We find the increase satisfactory, but if we ask ourselves whether the increase answers the expectations of the voters, the answer is no.”