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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Final figures reveal few women on councils

Final figures reveal few women on councils

The National Election Committee (NEC) has released final figures for the local elections,

known as commune council elections, which were held February 3. It confirmed the

Cambodian People's Party (CPP) landslide victory. The party took the powerful commune

council chief position in 1,597 of the country's 1,621 communes.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) will lead 13 councils, while the government

coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec party, completed a miserable showing, and

will head only ten. Funcinpec is currently engaged in frantic soul-searching in a

bid to shore up its position ahead of next year's general election.

A re-vote has been scheduled for March 3 in a single commune in Banteay Meanchey

province - Teak Thla commune in Serey Sophan district - but that will clearly

make little difference to the overall picture.

The next most powerful jobs on the councils are those of first and second deputy.

The CPP took 789 first deputy positions and 151 second deputies. Funcinpec is represented

by 546 first deputies and 854 second deputies, while the SRP will have 285 first

deputies and 615 second deputies.

The biggest surprise, though, was the low numbers of women council members. When

they announced their candidate lists last year, all three parties stressed the importance

of increasing representation among women at the grassroots level. Research by the

Asia Foundation showed that attitudes among Cambodian people precluded women taking

an equal role in politics.

In May 2001 the parties indicated they were keen to have 30 percent representation

of women on their candidate lists, but by the end of the year, once lists had been

finalized, it was apparent that none had managed that.

The CPP's candidate lists showed it had attracted the lowest proportion: only 13

percent of its candidates were women. Funcinpec did moderately better with 14 percent;

the SRP fielded slightly more than 20 percent women candidates.

At the time observers suggested that even these figures would likely prove optimistic:

winning candidates were selected in the order in which they appeared on the party

list. As each party's list for each commune had a slate of names, they feared that

women were being included far down the lists merely to bump up the representation

levels. In practice, they said, many had no realistic chance of making it on to the

councils.

Those concerns have been borne out: NEC figures showed that the CPP's 448 women council

members comprise around 6 percent of its total number of council members. With a

mere 35 women candidates, Funcinpec scored less than 2 percent. Slightly more than

2 percent of the SRP's council members are women.

Overall, less than 5 percent of all council members are women, well below the 16

percent of women fielded as candidates.

However, the SRP secretary-general, Eng Chhay Eang, said the NEC figure of 30 women

members was wrong, and claimed the party had 89 women in council positions across

the country. That still equates to less than 7 percent representation.

At a demonstration in Phnom Penh February 23, SRP leader Sam Rainsy, led several

hundred supporters on a march through the city to protest what he regards as dishonesty

by the NEC. He demanded the NEC hold recounts in seven communes; his supporters carried

banners describing NEC chairman Cheng Phon as a thief who had stolen their votes

and given them to the ruling CPP.

Rainsy insisted that previous recounts in the capital had shown that many ballots

previously ruled invalid were in fact valid votes for his party. The election monitoring

organization Comfrel said its research revealed that around 4 percent of the total

4.3 million votes cast had been ruled invalid.

Several much smaller parties took part in the commune election, but only one, the

Khmer Democratic Party, gained a position on a commune council.

Independent figures from Comfrel showed that the CPP took 7,552 seats (total votes

2.6 million); Funcinpec holds 2,194 seats (votes 945,000); and the SRP gained 1,329

seats (votes 717,000).

Final NEC figures for number of seats on commune councils: CPP 7,695; Funcinpec 2,211;

SRP 1,345; Khmer Democratic Party 1.

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