06/06/2022, 18.32
CAMBODIA
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Hun Sen’s party wins big in local elections thanks to the dissolution of main opposition party

by Steve Suwannarat

Although official results have not yet been released, the ruling Cambodian People's Party has already claimed victory, but not by as much as expected. The Candlelight Party, a revival of Sam Rainsy's party, which was dissolved after its 2017 election victory, claims that the election was marred by "pressure and intimidation". Turnout dropped significantly this year.

 

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won a landslide victory in yesterday’s municipal elections, but it faced no real opposition.

Initially, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party claimed to have won 99 per cent of the vote, but unofficial results seem less favourable. The CPP has been in power in the Southeast Asian nation for the past 37 years.

For its part, the National Election Committee (NEC) has only reported that the CPP was leading for the 11,660 seats available in the country’s 1,652 communes (municipalities). The NEC has come in for criticism from many quarters in the past.

The results this year are very different from the 2017 election. Five years ago, Hun Sen's party came close to losing for the first time in its history, taking only 50.76 per cent of the popular vote against 43.83 per cent for its main opponent, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

A few months after the election, the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the CNRP while its founder, Sam Rainsy, went into exile in France.

Many of its former and supporters boycotted yesterday's poll. Nevertheless, the performance of the Candlelight Party, a party set up by Sam Rainsy which had folded in the wake of the creation of the CNRP, might indicate the level of dissatisfaction with the authoritarian policies of Hun Sen who has sought to control civil society and has closely tied Cambodia to China.

Significantly, about 77.91 per cent of the 9.2 million eligible voters cast their ballot, down from 90.37 per cent five years ago.

This might be a sign of some disaffection with politics but also of diversity of interests and concerns. More than half of all voters are under 40, hard pressed in finding their way through life and coping with the country’s economic difficulties.

While the ruling party might in the end elect a huge army of officials, the popular vote might hold some surprises.

According to the local English-language newspaper The Khmer Times, the CPP can be certain of taking only 69 of the 105 subdistricts (sangrats) in which the capital Phnom Penh is divided.

“It’s been a successful electoral process with a calm environment, security, public order, no violence and no intimidation,” NEC President Prach Chan announced.

By contrast, Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha already announced his party’s intention to challenge the validity of the vote before the NEC, saying that it was tainted by “pressure and intimidation".

The United Nations Human Rights Office also reported a “pattern of threats, intimidation and obstruction targeting opposition candidates.”

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