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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No confidence, no interest, no vote

No confidence, no interest, no vote

It seems there are plenty of people not interested in voting in the commune

election. Mith Samonn is one: the first year economics student did not even

bother to register. The results of previous national elections meant he had no

confidence this election would change much.

"I understand that the

election is very important and meaningful, but my experiences from the past two

elections have caused me to lose confidence in our politicians," he said.

Although the election will see local leaders chosen democratically for the first

time in his life, Samonn felt the result would be little different for the


"After the general elections in 1993 and 1998, I learned that MPs

work for their party interests, rather than for the people," he said. "I don't

think the commune council candidates will be able to break free of their party's

interests either."

Human rights violations, land grabs and corruption

were among the issues that had not improved over the years and he felt the

parties were using the local elections to strengthen their power bases for the

national election next year.

Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst with the

Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel), agreed with that


"[The CPP, Funcinpec and the SRP] want to ensure they have

more control at the grassroots level to guarantee victory at the general

election," said Phasuk.

He said one disadvantage for commune candidates

was that they operated under a "top-down" structure, where policy was driven by

the higher echelons of the party. He felt commune candidates would not have much

chance to influence that.

Samonn's disillusionment was shared by beer

girls Phal Navy, Srey On and Lin Pesey. They told the Post they would not vote

because they don't believe it will improve their chances of getting a better


"Whether I should vote is not important, because no political party

is going to improve our living conditions," said Pesey. "But if the King had his

own party, then I would vote. We are beer girls and we will remain beer


In Angkor Borei district in Takeo province, a motodup driver said

he felt none of the candidates had decent ideas on developing the


"I am very interested in watching them campaign," he said,

"but the fact is that their policies are too general, not specific enough. That

makes it hard for me to vote for any of them." Another man said he liked his

party, but not the candidate it imposed in the 1998 national election. A rice

farmer said she had voted before and did not see the point in doing so


Anfrel noted the disquiet of such voters in a recent press

release. Most candidates, it said, had failed to engage voters on local issues.

Campaign material focused on leadership and national priorities, which gave the

appearance that this was regarded as a dress-rehearsal for the 2003


A CPP source confirmed that: "I don't see the commune elections

as a machine to reduce local poverty," he said. "The party is pursuing a

political agenda rather than a development agenda for individual communes."

How they ran in 1998

In 1998 Funcinpec, CPP and SRP bagged 33.5%,

29.5% and 27.8% of the votes respectively in Phnom Penh; in Kandal they took

38.9%, 36.3% and 15.9% respectively. The fight in Phnom Penh this time is for

control of 76 mainly urban communes with 440,000 voters; in Kandal they will

compete in 147 communes for 530,000 votes.

Kampong Speu comes third in

the list of provinces to watch, closely followed by Svay Rieng and Battambang.

The CPP took 50%, 54% and 35.9% votes from these regions in 1998; Funcinpec's

share was around 25%. One political observer thought the CPP would end up with

between 50-60% of communes, although it says it wants 70%.



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