Even the CPP wasn't sure quite how it won so many commune councils. On the night
of the February 3 poll, senior party figures were reportedly very surprised to walk
away with 98 percent of the commune chief positions. Party strategists were worried
no one would believe they hadn't cheated to achieve the spectacular result.
One election analyst, who asked not to be named, said that after the 2003 election
the CPP would likely be able to govern in its own right with a two-thirds majority.
Based on commune voting patterns, and assuming that three or four seats are added
to the National Assembly, the CPP would win 82 seats, Funcinpec 27 seats and the
SRP 17 seats.
The coalition would likely remain, because the CPP "doesn't want the opposition
to form a coalition," the analyst said, adding that in such a coalition, the
little bargaining power that Funcinpec has in the current government would be "completely
Several observers said the electorate was reluctant to disturb the status quo for
fear of CPP retribution. Explanations by opposition parties about the CPP's staggering
performance concentrated on allegations of vote buying, intimidation and the CPP's
dominance of the media.
"The 2002 election was anything but free and fair," according to a February
12 Sam Rainsy Party statement. The SRP attributed the CPP's success to the carrot
and stick of bribes and violence.
While Funcinpec and the SRP both said political intimidation had played a part, voting
patterns don't support that argument, at least in terms of direct acts of violence.
Incidences of 'direct intimidation' pointed to by the opposition had little measurable
In the five 'hot spot' provinces where most political killings and intimidation took
place - Kampong Cham, Kampot, Battambang, Pailin and Banteay Meanchey - voting patterns
were indistinguishable from both the overall Cambodian vote or from the vote in those
provinces where there were only minor cases of intimidation.
Preliminary election results show that in the five high intimidation provinces, Funcinpec
won 23.16 percent of the vote and the SRP 16.39 percent. For Funcinpec that is slightly
better than the 22 percent won overall. For SRP marginally worse than its nationwide
In two of the five most violent provinces, Kampot and Kampong Cham, the SRP increased
its share of the vote on its 1998 showing: up 8.5 percent in Kampot and 4 percent
in Kampong Cham, scene of five pre-election killings.
Funcinpec dropped 10 percent on its 1998 vote nationally but less in the most violent
provinces. Kampong Cham was the only 'hot spot' province in which its loss was larger
- 15 percent, and some of that went to the SRP.
If the figures contain a lesson for the country's political parties it may be that
while candidate killings harm an election's credibility, they do not affect its outcome.
Another explanation offered by opposition parties was the CPP's well-oiled electoral
machinery. The SRP's February 12 statement claimed the CPP used the "communist
cell system" to deliver both threats and bribes efficiently across the country.
The CPP's party organization threads deep within Cambodian village life, with a six-level
structure that ends in cells of ten families. The structure was established in the
earliest days of the post-Khmer Rouge era and is modeled on Vietnam's communist party
structure. CPP committees operate at the national, provincial, district, commune,
and village level and finally divide party activists into groups of ten families.
The structure provides the CPP with an effective means of mobilizing people at the
grassroots level and allows for feedback to judge the country's mood. Networks of
dependence and obligation also reach down to the village level.
A senior CPP source denied the system was used to deliver bribes and intimidation.
He argued that understanding the "needs of the people" was paramount to
the CPP's success.
"The CPP has invested a lot of money in important fields such as building schools,
roads, hospitals, irrigation, pumps and clean water which the villagers had requested,"
he said. "We use the budget of the party and donations from generous supporters.
In 1998, we built about 2,000 schools from the party's budget."
The CPP also spent twelve months preparing for the poll, divesting the party of unpopular
and corrupt leaders.
"We took measures, such as kicking out some government officials who committed
mistakes and we punished them," he said.
With 61 percent of the vote, 98 percent of the commune chiefs and 68 percent of the
commune candidates the CPP appears to have overcome initial anxieties about being
"Electoral competition is like sport. If we win the game we are happy - that
is normal. But the CPP is ready to share power according to the law," he concluded.