In Popel commune, Takeo province, some seven commune councilors from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party are going to vote in the Senate election, which will take place on February 25.
The election will take place without the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which gained more than two-fifths of the of the popular vote in local elections in June before it was dissolved in November by the Supreme Court.
There is no doubt here that the commune council controlled by CPP is going to vote for the CPP despite the secret ballot.
In Popel Commune Hall, along the National Road Number 3 to Takeo province, Touch Pav, the commune chief, sits in front of other commune councilors, telling them he is going to vote for the CPP.
“I am going to vote for CPP since I am from the CPP,” said Pav, 47, who took up the post after the CNRP incumbent vacated the seat when the party was dissolved and their seats were redistributed.
In the June local election, the CNRP won a majority of seats here.
Touch Pav was a former official from the then-Sam Rainsy Party, which he joined in 1993. He defected to the CPP in 2012.
“Before I thought Sam Rainy is a democrat but finally he is not democratic, making social chaos like doing strikes and demonstrations,” he said.
There are 11,572 constituencies voting in the upcoming Senate election, as well as 123 lawmakers in the National Assembly.
Four parties will contest the election, but the CPP is expected to win all of the 62 seats.
Pav believes his six colleagues, including one defector, will also vote for the CPP.
“It is their right and freedom. They can vote for any party. We don’t know,” he said. But for him, there is no doubt he will vote for the CPP.
However, Pav says he does not know the total number of seats in the Senate and never met any senators, though he has worked at the commune hall for five years.
Local CNRP officials had worked in the commune for about four months before the party was dissolved. Pav said he got on well with CNRP commune councilors who lost their posts.
“I have many good memories with them. We cooperated well with each other in the commune administrative work. There was no problem,” he said.
Chea Thol, 45, a former CNRP official in Popel, defected to the CPP last year so that he could get a post as the first deputy commune chief. He joined the Sam Rainsy Party in 2001.
He said he defected because the CNRP was dissolved and he needed to get a post and earn some income.
“This is a confidential election. I would not dare to say yet. Wait until the election day comes,” he said. “I am not sure if I am being watched or not. I am now in one family [the CPP],” he added.
Khun Vannoeurn, 45, a female second deputy commune chief from the CPP, sitting next to Pav, the commune chief, said she is also going to vote for the CPP, as she has supported the party since she grew up.
“They [my parents] told me that the CPP liberated the country from the Pol Pot regime,” she said.
She said she had met with ruling party senators to discuss women’s affairs and party work. But people, she said, don’t often meet senators, just once or twice a year.
“The parliamentarians are busier than the senators,” she said.
About a third of Popel commune residents work in three garment factories here, according to the commune chief.
Chea Sophal, the former CNRP commune chief, said the Senate election is “meaningless.”
“What is the meaning of the election, if the electoral college is not from the party people voted for? ” he asked.
Sophal is the current commune chief’s cousin. Members of the CPP tried to persuade him to defect. “I didn’t because it is against the voters will,” he said.
However, he is now waiting for the news from the party leaders as to what they are going to do after the party was dissolved.
By law, two senators are nominated by the King and another two nominated by the National Assembly.
If the CNRP was not dissolved, the party would expect to have gained 25 senators, increasing from 11, according to Teav Vannol, a senator from the Candle Light Party, formerly the Sam Rainy Party.
He said the Senate is weak in Cambodian law. “The Senate has no power under the constitution,” he added. “In a democratic country like the U.S., the Senate is strong, even more powerful than [Congress],” he said.
Yoeurng Sotheara, a legal and monitoring officer with Comfrel, a local election watchdog, said reform was needed for the Senate to have the power to challenge the National Assembly.
“By the provisions provided in the current constitution, the power of the upper house is nothing. I don’t see any forceful authority or power of the Senate stipulated in the constitution,” he said.
“It is good if both of them can play a role of check and balances,” he added.
However, Mam Buneang, Senate spokesman, defended the power of Senate.
“We do things in accordance with the constitutions and the internal rules of the Senate,” he said.
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said the Senate was created “not to serve any legislative function but simply to create a power-base for Chea Sim,” the former Senate and CPP president who died in 2015.
“As you'll recall, he was asked to give up the presidency of the National Assembly, which was then given to Prince Norodom Ranariddh in exchange for bringing Funcinpec into a new coalition with the CPP. Right now the Senate performs no vital legislative function.”
Despite no CNRP candidates taking part in the upcoming Senate election, Popel commune chief, Touch Pav said there is still a democratic process in place.
“I think without the CNRP, there are other parties, democratic parties, who can contest the election,” he said. “I believe that there is no problem with the Senate election this term.”