Absent any legitimate competition, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party swept all 58 elected seats in Sunday’s Senate elections, giving it near-absolute control in the upper house of parliament, according to preliminary results.
The four-party ballot was expected to be a blowout for the CPP, given its commanding hold on the country’s commune councils. Only commune councillors and National Assembly members participate in the indirect election, with the ruling party holding around 95 percent of voters.
The ballot was drastically altered by the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in November and a series of amendments to election laws allowing the party’s vacated assembly and commune seats to be redistributed. The vast bulk at the commune level, comprising thousands of seats, went to the CPP.
On top of the 58 elected Senate seats, four others are appointed by the King and the National Assembly. Prior to his departure for China last week, King Norodom Sihamoni appointed former Funcinpec President Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey and Oum Somanin to the Senate.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said that the body would vote on its two appointees in April, when it convenes for the next plenary session.
A day before the ballot, the Cambodia National Rescue Party released a statement calling on the United Nations and international community to label today’s ballot “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic”.
“We are alarmed by the prospects for further destabilisation of the country and the region as the people of Cambodia will not accept a full dictatorship and one-party rule,” the statement reads.
Former CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua called the results a “death knell for democracy”, and Ou Chanrath, a former party lawmaker, said they were an unsurprising cementing of the ruling party’s political grip across the political spectrum.
“If the political situation remains like this, it is headed towards a one-party system. Even if there are many parties [on the ballot], it will be controlled by one party,” Chanrath said.
CPP spokesmen Sok Eysan and Sous Yara, and ruling party Senator Mam Bun Neang, could not be reached for comment on the results. However, earlier in the day, Eysan dismissed the opposition’s statement on the elections as the “bad intentions of illegal rebels”.
“Illegal rebels have the intention of destroying democracy in Cambodia. Illegal rebels have the intention of looking down on Cambodian people’s will,” he said in a message.
Some 44 percent of Cambodians voted for the CNRP in the last national elections in 2013 and in last year’s local elections. However, their more than 3 million votes were invalidated when the CNRP was forcibly dissolved for allegedly fomenting “revolution” and its seats given to the CPP and a few minor parties, who won less than 4 percent of the vote between them.
Despite coming up empty-handed in the ballot, small parties were quick to praise the election.
The Cambodian Youth Party released a statement after the results calling the poll “free and fair”, while also praising the NEC for its conduct of the election. Party President Pich Sros was instrumental in the dissolution of the CNRP as one of two parties – the other being the royalist Funcinpec party – to file complaints against the CNRP, leading to is ultimate disbanding.
Funcinpec also released a statement late last night saying the election was nonviolent and quiet, and accepting the outcome of the ballot. “Funcinpec wished to support and accept the primary results of the Senate elections,” it reads.
According to the NEC, less than half of 1 percent of voters failed to show up at the polls, with the few non-voters missing out on account of sickness or travel. NEC official Tep Nytha said the process was “smooth” and followed the principles of a “democratic election”.
“From the creation of the voter list, to party registration, to the election campaign and election day, they went smoothly, as scheduled and according to protocol,” he said.
Early in the day, enthusiastic electors lined up outside polling booths at Phnom Penh’s Bun Rany Hun Sen High School near Wat Phnom to cast their ballot for one of the four parties contesting the elections.
Prime Minister Hun Sen voted in his constituency of Kandal province, with National Assembly President Heng Samrin returning to Kampong Cham to place his vote.
NEC Chairman Sik Bun Hok inspected voting at the Phnom Penh polling centre, saying balloting was smooth across the country, with no reports of irregularities.
He strongly defended the poll and dismissed any concerns raised by foreign governments about the legitimacy of the elections, pointing to continued support from Japan and China.
“I already said the two important things for an election is it needs to be independent and neutral to ensure it will be free, fair and just,” he said. “This election is based on the law created by the National Assembly and not from the United States or the European Union.”
The US and EU withdrew their support for the NEC last year following the CNRP’s dissolution.
After checking for their booth number, councillors lined up outside to cast their ballot, occasionally making way for sick and elderly commune officials – one of whom was brought in an ambulance to vote.
Sok Nary, the ruling party’s first deputy chief of Chroy Changvar commune, said the absence of the CNRP and any strong opponent in the elections has become the new “normal”.
“I want the CNRP to join the election to show democracy in our country. I regret that the CNRP was dissolved,” she said.
CPP councillor Hem Sarady, who defected from the CNRP following its dissolution, said he had no hesitation in voting for the ruling party, given his former party’s alleged attempted revolution.
However, like Nary, he did point out the lack of a legitimate opposition in Sunday’s ballot. “This election has no strong competitor like before. If the CNRP remained, there would have been a strong competition for victory between each side,” he said.