Despite the expected ruling party win, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party hails early poll results as a ‘victory' and a chance to usher in local change.
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Voters line up Sunday at a polling station in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district to cast their votes in the council elections.
THE ruling Cambodian People's Party scored an expected victory in Sunday's inaugural provincial, district and municipal council elections, winning a clear majority of seats on the new administrative bodies, according to early provisional poll results.
Voting tallies released by the National Election Committee (NEC) Sunday showed the CPP winning 7,156 out of 9,376 votes counted so far at the provincial level, or 76.3 percent of the vote, with the Sam Rainsy Party coming in a distant second with 1,817 votes (19.4 percent).
The Norodom Ranariddh Party and Funcinpec - the only other two parties to contest the election - had 231 and 153 votes respectively.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the general atmosphere on election day was "peaceful" and that no political parties had lodged any complaints about irregularities.
He added that the day also saw 100 percent turnout, except for four voters from Kampong Thom, Mondulkiri, Takeo and Phnom Penh, who missed out because of death, sickness, absence in the US and - in the case of one - a conscious boycott of the poll.
With the vote restricted to the country's 11,353 commune councilors, the elections threw up few surprises.
But preliminary figures show the CPP could be set to win a larger proportion than that suggested by its presence at the communes, where it holds 70.4 percent of the seats.
Tep Nytha added that ballots for Phnom Penh's municipal council and other councils in the capital had yet to be counted, but that updated results were to be released today.
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
NEC officials count ballots at a polling station in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district during Sunday's council elections.
A ‘victory' for all
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the ruling party expected to win two-thirds of the seats on the municipal, provincial and district councils, describing it as a "great victory".
He added: "This victory is due to our efforts to construct the country under our great leaders, especially Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen," he told the Post Sunday, citing NRP Deputy Secretary General Suth Dina's request that his party's council members vote for the CPP as a sign of the party's strength.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that on the basis of preliminary calculations, the party was expecting to win a maximum of 550 out of 2,861 district council seats and 65 out of 353 provincial posts.
But the SRP's estimates are below pre-election predictions conducted by local election monitor Comfrel in February, which saw the party winning 613 district seats and 69 on the provincial councils.
THIS VICTORY IS DUE TO OUR EFFORTS TO CONSTRUCT THE COUNTRY.
When asked about the discrepancy, Yim Sovann said he was "not surprised", reiterating the party's allegations about vote-buying by CPP officials.
"The CPP has a lot of money and power, and will use it to buy votes and intimidate the voters. They know almost all the names of the voters," he said.
"This is why we don't want indirect elections. We want direct elections because more people are involved."
Comfrel also estimated the CPP would win 2,130 district seats and 273 in the provinces.
But both Comfrel and Nicfec, another local poll monitor, boycotted the election Sunday, citing the waste of money in an election that could just as easily be determined by extrapolating results from the parties' representation at the commune council level.
But despite the lower-than-expected returns, Yim Sovann said the election results were a "big victory" for the opposition, which has up until now lacked any presence in the district and provincial administrations.
"In terms of human rights violations, illegal land evictions and corruption, we can raise issues at the monthly meeting of the district and provincial councils," he said.
He added that SRP councilors would request inventories from the new bodies and force them to account for all their expenditures and sources of revenue.
Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said Thursday that the new councils could have positive effects on governance, but that it could take a while to reform the system, since the attitude of lower authorities has traditionally been "to answer to the top".
But he said Comfrel would try to educate people about the role of local councils and build awareness ahead of the 2012 commune council elections.
You Hockry, secretary general of the NRP and Funcinpec secretary Nhek Bun Chhay could not be reached for comment Sunday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA