The Cambodian People’s Party will hold primary elections next month to select the party’s candidates for the June 4 elections in the nation’s 1,646 communes, spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday, calling the move a part of “the CPP’s policy of democracy”.
The ruling party currently holds 1,592 commune councils compared with the 40 held by the Cambodia National Rescue Party – with 14 new communes to be created – but the June 2012 commune elections took place at a low-point for the since resurgent, and unified, opposition.
Eysan said the CPP’s central committee congress in Phnom Penh on December 17 and 18 had sent the message to the party’s commune leaders that they had to hold votes to select their list of candidates – including for commune chief – sometime next month.
“It instructed each commune to do this by themselves, and that it must be done in January,” Eysan said. “They will take the lists of candidates who have been voted in through the commune congress to submit it to the top leaders to be checked.”
“In the CPP’s policy of democracy, there is voting, and all the commune congresses must be done in January,” he said, noting that National Military Police commander Sao Sokha already ran one vote in Svay Rieng province on Saturday because he would be busy with military work next month.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the opposition has a more decentralised method of selecting its candidates for the country’s 1,646 communes, giving power to the leaders at the local level to decide how to pick the candidates but keeping elections as a fallback option.
“We have three processes. First, we hand power to the local level to do it themselves,” Sovann said.
“Second, if there is disagreement, we have a committee to handle that, and the committee has members from the provincial working group and executive, and the district executive and the people standing to be candidates.”
“If that second stand cannot solve it, thirdly, we will let the people at the local level vote . . . and then we will appoint those people as the candidates to compete with the other parties,” Sovann explained.
“In short, we give the power to the local level.”
Kem Ley, the political commentator who was assassinated July 10, had long criticised both the CPP and CNRP for failing to hold internal elections to select their candidates, often appealing to both parties to implement what he termed “intra-party democracy”.
Sam Inn, who was a close friend of Ley and is now the spokesman for the Grassroots Democracy Party that the commentator established, said he had been informed of the CPP’s primary voting system and attributed the decision to the analyst’s advocacy.
“We have heard from our local leaders that they have this approach to allow their members to elect their candidates for the commune council elections, and that was what we had demanded from the parties,” Inn said.
“It is a good move, and we are happy to see the impact of our advocacy and our work. We have applied this in our own party; we have already organised 24 commune congresses to allow GDP members elect candidates, and we are happy to see the CPP do this, too.”
“This is what Kem Ley wanted to see,” he said. “Kem Ley and the GDP have caused some impact. It’s the right move towards a more democratic society.”
Koul Panha, director of local elections monitor Comfrel, said he was pleased the ruling party was holding such elections but appealed to its national leaders to ensure there was no funny business.
“I welcome this. It’s more democratic for the internal structures – if it is transparent,” Panha said, explaining that the CPP had held similar votes in the past but there were questions of legitimacy.
“Previously, they also asked members to select their candidates, but people complained that they did not know who was really most popular,” he said. “They just closed the [ballot] box, and opened it up at the district or provincial office, and announced the decision.”
“It was not so open,” Panha said. “The process of choosing the candidates has to be transparent.”