A young Cambodian voter shows off the indelible ink that indicates she has cast her vote. (ABC News: Liam Cochrane)
Cambodians have turned out in huge numbers to vote for local officials, in an election seen as a test of the ruling party’s long reign.
- “We lost some battles but won the war,” ruling party says
- Opposition also claims result as victory
- Human rights group says soldiers were brought in to shore up ruling party’s vote in marginal seats
Unofficial early results published by Government-aligned media suggest the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will secure around 71 per cent of communes.
That is a decrease from 2012’s tally of 97 per cent of communes, but not quite the landslide that was thought possible.
“If we describe it as a war, we lost some battles but won the war,” CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said.
The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) is also claiming the result as a victory, increasing its control of communes from 40 in 2012 to around 482 in Sunday’s ballot.
“The overall situation for this year’s election is much better than the previous one and the support for the CNRP is is stronger,” party president Kem Sokha said.
A breakdown of the total ballots cast, rather than commune councillors selected, could show an even stronger result for the opposition, which said the raw numbers were neck-and-neck.
The campaign period was marred by threats, with Prime Minister Hun Sen warning of a return to civil war if his party lost, and the head of the armed forces threatening to “smash the teeth” of any opposition protesters.
But in a country where the medium age is 24, a new generation of young voters is less susceptible to these reminders of Cambodia’s dark history.
“The threat of war doesn’t seem to be effective,” independent political commentator Meas Ny said.
Cambodia’s Prime minister Hun Sen (centre) has been in power for 32 years. (Supplied: The Phnom Penh Post (file photo))
Positive signs for Cambodia’s democracy
Polling day appeared to be free of violence and initial reports from election monitors were upbeat.
However, there were accusation of some dirty tricks.
Local human rights group LICADHO reported truckloads of soldiers being brought in to shore up the CPP’s vote in marginal seats.
Mr Meas said there was also evidence of pre-election vote buying, known locally as the “season of the barking dog” as village leaders go door-to-door in the days before the vote.
“Although substantial amounts of money have been used for the purpose of buying votes, it still does not change much the result of the election for the CPP,” Mr Meas told the ABC.
While not perfect, the commune elections showed some positive signs for Cambodia’s much-beleaguered democracy, with an 85 per cent turn-out and voter lists far improved on past efforts.
The results of these local polls set the scene for a showdown between the CPP and the opposition in national polls next year.
Mr Hun has ruled Cambodia for 32 years and is grooming his sons for political succession.