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Surprises Unlikely as Senate Election Approaches

Protesters take part in a demonstration against public sector layoffs, which the government has promised its international lenders in exchange for bailout funds, in Athens, July 15, 2013.
Protesters take part in a demonstration against public sector layoffs, which the government has promised its international lenders in exchange for bailout funds, in Athens, July 15, 2013.

Senate elections will be held on Jan. 29, but election monitors say the vote will hold no surprises, because the system is set up so that only two parties, the ruling and main opposition, will win votes.

About 13,000 political officials of the Cambodian People’s and Sam Rainsy parties will vote in the election. The outcome is more or less known, since the CPP has 8,000 voters and the SRP has 3,000.

That means an estimated 46 seats for the CPP and 11 seats for the SRP, along with two senators each appointed by the Royal Palace and the CPP-dominated National Assembly.

The votes of the Funcinpec and Norodom Ranariddh parties, which hold seats in the National Assembly, “are obvious,” said Koul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

“So in the near future, if there are not any parties with commune council members, then others cannot participate,” he said. “For example, eventually, there will be only one party in the future that governs commune council members, which will mean a party competing only against itself, which then makes all its own party members commune councilors to vote for their own party. That’s meaningless.”

Nhiek Bun Chhay, Funcinpec’s president, said his party has about 300 commune councilors to vote in the Senate election. That’s not enough to gain any seats in the Senate, he said, adding that he would prefer to see the Senate held to a general vote among the population.

“Having a general election, like the [National Assembly] election, is better,” he said.

Noranarridh Ananda Yath, chief of cabinet for the Norodom Ranarridh Party, said the Senate elections should be reformed. His party has about 400 commune councilors, which is also not enough to win any seats in the Senate.

“Next time we hope we are able to join the contest,” he said.

Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, said each party knows whether it can win or not before participating in the Senate election, but it is up to a party whether it wants to field candidates.

Arguments for reform of the election system need to go through the proper lawmaking bodies, he said. Around 60 countries worldwide have a similar system for electing their senators, he said.

Cambodia’s universal elections take place for the National Assembly at the national level and the commune councils at the local level, he said. Commune elections will be held later this year, with the National Assembly election to follow in 2013.

Campaigning for the Senate election, which is held for representatives of eight regions around the country, will go from Jan. 7 to Jan. 27.

However, in the upcoming election and others, the members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party say they are at a disadvantage.

Some of their members have gone into hiding or left the country, for fear of biased legal proceedings, Yim Sovann, a lawmaker and spokesman for the party, said.

SRP members across the country have prepared for intimidation in this election, as well as commune council elections, he said.

The party is trying to mobilize victims of land grabbing, forced evicitions and border encroachment to protest against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, he said.

“We will organize a mass demonstration to tackle the issues,” he said. “If there is no solution, nationwide protests are going to happen.”

Ruling party supporters have offered money to commune councilors to win their support, he said, a claim CPP officials deny.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hun Sen in recent speeches has compared opposition leader Sam Rainsy to Pol Pot, saying his party restricts members in voting processes.

Internal CPP documents obtained by VOA Khmer show that the ruling party is preparing itself for upcoming elections—Senate, commune and national.

“Opposition parties and other bad spheres have never given up in aiming to topple the CPP,” one internal document warns.