With their fingers freshly inked from Sunday’s polls, voters said Tuesday they were looking for security and good governance from their local commune councils, while Cambodia’s main opposition parties began to look ahead to national elections next year.
“I want a good commune council,” said Has Tak, 22, who is married and lives in Sambor commune, Kampong Speu province, some 40 kilometers west of the capital. Out here, many fields have yet to be plowed, and they remain dry, despite the onset of the rainy season last month.
For Has Tak and other voters like him, day-to-day needs are the most pressing, like the red-earth road, which the rain has washed away in some sections. “The road is mostly broken down, and it’s hard to ride a motorcycle on it,” Has Tak said Tuesday. “The commune council must consider this, and help the poor people.”
“I want security,” said a 49-year-old woman, who takes care of 2 hectares of rice fields and raises chickens to support six family members. “We need electricity in every commune and in every province,” she added.
What most voters want out of local leadership will be up to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which won a sweeping majority of commune chief seats—an unofficial estimated 1,592 of 1,633.
Despite the ruling party’s landslide, however, opposition leaders say they made gains with members on lower council seats, which will help them in their bid for parliamentary seats next year.
Both the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties have said they would consider joining together for the national election, hoping to leverage their grass roots popularity in next year’s national election. Each party won about 20 commune chief positions each.
Speaking to VOA Khmer by phone from Paris, Sam Rainsy said the change in local leadership will allow a change of village chiefs, and that will bring “big changes” in the national election next year. “We will bring absolute change,” he said, though he remains in exile and faces a number of criminal charges he maintains are politically motivated.
Kem Sokha, who leads the smaller Human Rights Party, said the local victories will be a key to political change, but that will require collaboration by the opposition.
“The main foundation of communists and dictators is at the grass roots,” he said. “So in this step we can change a lot of village chiefs, if the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party work together.
In Kampong Cham, for example, the two opposition parties won some 300,000 votes in this election, he said. That could mean a big difference in national parliamentary elections if the parties join, he said.
Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling party, said he was not concerned with the political strategy of the opposition. “This depends on the voters and their will,” he said.