The ruling Cambodian People’s Party had a strong showing in this week’s commune election, in part because they have a strong political system in place, observers say. But they also have leveraged the power of the media to their advantage and are able to use public servants and the security forces in campaigning.
Koul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, called the state-run and pro-CPP media an “unequal arm” in the election process that helped win it votes.
The Cambodian People’s Party swept the commune elections on Sunday, winning nearly 1,600 of 1,633 commune chief positions. The opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties split 40 commune chief seats, with 22 and 18, respectively.
Opposition officials say they hope to meet in Manila, Philippines, next week to discuss joining together to improve their odds in next year’s general election.
“Even though there was a lot of fraud in the election, the support for the opposition parties increased,” said Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, the minority opposition. “This means people need change.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the election results were a “victory” for the CPP, whose popularity has been highlighted in recent surveys.
The election did not come without complaints of irregularities, which continued Friday, when SRP lawmaker Chea Poch filed a complaint with the National Election Committee, accusing the director of the national customs department of participating in campaigning.
“I want the NEC to punish Pen Simon because he used the the name of civil service to propagandize for the ruling CPP,” the Kampot province lawmaker said.
Pen Simon could not be reached for comment. The NEC said it received the complaint and was reviewing it.
The governmental election body continued to face criticism this week for its handling of the election, including complaints and voter registration complications that some observers say prevented many from voting. It has been criticized for bias toward the ruling CPP.
Sunday’s polls prove that Cambodia still has a long way to go before it can ensure credible elections, Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” Monday.
The voter turnout was less than 60 percent, according to the NEC, a relatively low number compared to elections in the past. The low turnout was a sign that people trusted the election process even less and “have lost hope,” Ou Virak said. Cambodians “see that the election won’t be able to make political change or change leaders.”
The National Election Committee failed to address reports of alleged vote-buying and intimidation in the lead-up to the election, he said. Village and commune chiefs were observed near polling stations, taking note of voters and their names, he said. This is a violation of election regulation and potentially skews the vote.
“It’s the same issue raised by independent observers at every election,” he said.
These issues, combined with a lack of information by voters and a biased media, all contributed to a sub-standard election, he said.
The longterm solution is to make the NEC more independent, he said. “With its current formula, it is not independent,” he said. “Whoever is placed there cannot speak out openly.