The results, published by Fresh News, said the CPP won 1,163 communes to the Cambodian National Rescue Party’s 482 but did not indicate the breakdown of the popular vote. National Election Committee spokesman Hang Puthea said he could not confirm the results.
The CPP won a whopping 1,592 of 1,632 communes in the June 2012 elections, with the two parties that later formed the CNRP winning only 40 between them – a 12th of what they won yesterday – but the opposition had been hoping for much larger gains.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha has said that the CNRP hoped to win at least 60 percent of the popular vote. Party spokesman Yim Sovann said at a press conference last night it had probably lost the nationwide popular vote 46 percent to the CPP’s 51 percent.
FOR THE BEST GLOBAL HOTEL & FLIGHT BOOKINGS
Yet he nevertheless characterised the CNRP’s more than tenfold gains in its communes held – and its claimed 16 percent increase in popular vote compared to 2012 – as a triumph ahead of the July 2018 national elections.
“This is a big victory for the CNRP,” Sovann told reporters at a press conference held at the opposition party’s headquarters last night after the unofficial results were released, adding that he believed the results boded well ahead of next year’s vote.
“This means that we will manage around 500 communes in the upcoming mandate. Those are very big communes. There is potential for economic growth, and many people living there. We can conclude that [after] the 2018 election, the CNRP will rule the country.”
“We expect 60 percent of the vote at that election.”
Sreng Meng Srun
However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan described the results as an overwhelming victory for the ruling party and a repudiation of the opposition’s claims it has been riding a wave of growing popular support that would make its victory inevitable in July next year.
“The CPP won around 71 percent [of the communes] and the CNRP won around 29 percent,” Eysan said, adding that the ruling party’s internal numbers also showed it had increased its nationwide popular vote compared to the 2013 national election.
“Although the CPP dropped a number of communes, the number of voters [for the party] increased compared to 2013,” he said. “The CNRP now has increased its number of communes – but if it was compared to 2013, this party has lost more than 200 communes.”
The CPP defeated the CNRP at the disputed 2013 national election with 48.8 percent of the vote to the CNRP’s 44.4 percent, but many in the opposition had argued – even as they aimed for 60 percent – that the party would have a harder time in local elections.
Voting went mostly without incident, with the first election run since the formation of the bipartisan NEC receiving the tick of approval of local elections monitors, who had observers at booths around the country reporting back to Phnom Penh.
“The elections at the polling stations went smoothly today,” Koul Panha, head of local elections group Comfrel, said at a press conference after voting closed, explaining his coalition of NGOs known as “The Situation Room” received few reports of irregularities. “We only had a few cases,” Panha said, noting the group had 14,000 observers around the country.
“There were no big cases of worry, because our observers were told to report them immediately, and they did not.”
Panha said observers had to be pulled out from two locations in Kandal province due to intimidation, and that there were 19 communes where large numbers of nonresident soldiers had registered and voted, and that the group would be investigating both issues in the coming days.
Around the country, the CNRP made the largest of its gains in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham – the home province of Prime Minister Hun Sen, where the opposition won 76 of the 109 communes on offer, according to the unofficial results published by Fresh News.
In Phnom Penh, the CNRP took 54 communes to the CPP’s 51, preliminary results showed, while in Battambang it won 48 communes to the CPP’s 54 – having won none of the communes in the province at the 2012 vote. In Siem Reap, the CNRP won 56 to the CPP’s 44.
The CPP had its most devastating victories in provinces like Pursat, where it won all of the 49 communes; Stung Treng, where it won 33 communes to the CNRP’s one; and the tiny seaside province of Kep, where it won all of the five communes available.
In Kandal province’s Takhmao town, Hun Sen opened the day’s voting to some fanfare, arriving at the city’s provincial teacher training centre with his wife Bun Rany to greet voters before entering the booths to choose their commune chiefs for the next five years.