Win-win result in Cambodia’s commune vote

By Ge Hongliang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/22 21:40:38

On June 4, Cambodia held its commune elections, a crucial test for the country's political strongman, incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has warned of "civil war" if his party loses.

The prime minister's warning added a smell of gunpowder to the commune elections, which serve as a barometer for the 2018 general election.

The balloting concluded in an orderly manner, leaving significant implications for the trajectory of Cambodia's democratic politics. 

Cambodia has successfully held four commune elections so far. As a "big event" for registering the electorate to vote and participate in politics, the commune elections mean that voters directly elect Commune and Sangkat Councils. 

The Commune and Sangkat Councils have both the power of decision-making and appointment, deciding matters by a simple majority and directly appointing village leaders. Therefore, major Cambodian political parties value commune elections as much as general elections and their performance is taken as a barometer for the next year's national assembly elections. 

The final result of the 2017 commune elections will not be released until Sunday. The National Election Committee of Cambodia, however, announced the preliminary result on June 4, showing that the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 1,163 seats out of 1,646, 70 percent of the seats. The biggest opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), won 482 with about 30 percent of the seats. One seat went to the Khmer National Unity Party. 

It is evident that the CPP led by current Prime Minister Hun Sen has "won" the elections and the CNRP's "failure" is obvious. Hun Sen noted in a written speech within the party that the CPP won many more votes than in 2013, so it has won the commune elections and Hun Sen expressed confidence of keeping power in next year's general election. 

In contrast with these high-sounding words, the CNRP spokesperson admitted the party's failure in the election. However, it can be a remarkable victory for the CNRP considering its significantly improved performance. 

The CNRP won in the three most important communes—Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham (with the largest population and most seats). Moreover, compared with the 2012 commune elections, the CNRP has made notable progress. The CNRP is a merger of two political parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party. In winning 46 percent of the popular vote, the CNRP performed 15 percentage points better than the combined performance of its precursor parties during the 2012 commune election.

The commune elections also show two outstanding features. One is high voter turnout. Statistics show that Cambodia has 7.87 million registered voters, and the National Election Committee has disclosed that more than 6 million people voted this year with a turnout of 85.74 percent. 

The elections were just and orderly with supervision by inspectors from Cambodia and foreign countries such as the US. Justness and openness have been realized and domestic and foreign inspectors hold consistent opinions about the result. 

The "win-win" situation enables the CPP and the CNRP to compete peacefully through elections under the existing political framework, which obviously is good for the people. After all, "civil war," as Hun Sen warned of, and street protests, which were often staged by the CNRP, would be a disaster for economic and social development. 

The two parties have started preparing for the 2018 election. Political stability as well as economic growth, rights and benefits are necessities for people, and political parties need enough political wisdom to provide it. 

The author is a research fellow with The Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities.


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