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Prime Minister Hun Sen leads CPP campaign rally last week in Phnom Penh Heng Chivoan

Spinning the poll results

Already looking ahead to 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen has told his Cambodian People’s Party that had Sunday’s commune elections been a national election, they would have won even more National Assembly seats than they did in 2013.

An analysis of the election results does appear to bear out that claim, but an opposition spokesman was quick to note yesterday that the premier was drawing the wrong lesson after suffering large losses.

In a letter published yesterday by the pro-government media outlet Fresh News, Hun Sen said an increase in the CPP’s popular vote from 3.2 million at the 2013 national election to 3.5 million at Sunday’s commune vote would prove fruitful if repeated at the 2018 national election.

“If we took the 2017 results and divided them up as seats in the National Assembly, the Cambodian People’s Party would receive 71 seats – that figure is an increase of three seats over the 68 seats the CPP won at the 2013 election,” Hun Sen said in the letter.

“These results clearly show the speed of the increase in support for the CPP, which is a strong indication of victory for the CPP at the 2018 election,” he wrote, before urging his party’s members to continue courting support and not become complacent.

According to preliminary election results from the National Election Committee, had Sunday’s commune elections been a national election, the CPP would in fact have won 71 seats in the soon-to-be-125-seat assembly to the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s 54. The assembly currently has 123 seats, with the CPP winning 68 to 55 in 2013.

Yet opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said it was not useful to compare Sunday’s commune results with the 2013 national election because the parties always fare differently at the elections, with the opposition doing better at national ballots. “If we compare, we have to compare between commune elections – between 2012 and 2017. From 2012 to 2017, the ruling party decreased its vote from 62 percent to 49 percent, while the opposition increased from about 30 to 46 percent,” Sovann said.

“According to the past trends since 2002, we have had three commune elections and the difference between the commune elections and national elections is that the opposition gets 15 to 16 percent more,” he said, predicting 60 percent of the vote for the CNRP at 2018. Opposition leader Kem Sokha had predicted that same figure for the CNRP at Sunday’s commune vote, but preliminary results released by the NEC appear to show the CPP having won 50.8 percent of the vote nationwide to the opposition’s 43.8 percent.

Yet Sovann’s claims may not be overly optimistic. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, for which he previously served as a lawmaker, won 14.3 percent of the vote at the inaugural 2002 commune elections, and then won 21.9 percent at the 2003 national election.

It went on to win 25.5 percent of the vote at the 2007 commune elections and then, combined with Sokha’s Human Rights Party – with which it formed a brief alliance before formally merging into the CNRP in July 2012 – took 28.5 percent at the 2008 national election.

Most recently, at the June 2012 commune elections, the two parties won a combined 30.1 percent of the national vote, and then won 44.5 percent of the total vote at the 2013 national election – the united opposition’s first.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the opposition was simply trying to spin the overwhelming defeat of its 60 percent objective into a victory, and said that he believed people would vote in just as large numbers for the CPP come July 2018.

“The loser always cries like that,” Siphan said. “If you compare their numbers at the commune elections, they are very minor. They like to pretend they have made progress and they will win, but I don’t think so. Look at the numbers, and not the manipulation. At the national election, people will also like the performance of the national government that has given peace and stability and many achievements.”

Sam Inn, the secretary-general of the Grassroots Democracy Party, a party formed by NGO leaders that won some council seats on Sunday – and hopes to win assembly seats next year – said it could be true that the CNRP would be able to attract more votes next year.

“Usually it is not the same because people still give value to their commune’s leaders more than the party in their choice [at commune elections]. And the CNRP doesn’t have sufficient good local leaders to offer,” Inn said, adding that the CPP and CNRP should be aware they were not the only parties competing.

“I cannot predict the results of the national election right now as many other emerging things can come and affect the results,” Inn said. “One other thing is that the GDP will work hard to change the political landscape by breaking the 50-percent-plus-one majority rule” of any one party.

Sovann, the CNRP spokesman, said he believed many people liked their CPP commune chiefs and were voting for them personally – as the opposition struggled to find candidates not afraid to stand – but that the same would not apply at the 2018 election.

“Frankly speaking, many people have lived with their commune chiefs since a long time ago, and some of them have good personalities, and for the opposition, because of the political environment now, it is difficult to find candidates,” Sovann said, adding that the same would not apply at the national election.

“Even if at the national level their people are corrupt and destroy forests and cause social issues and violence and repression, at the grassroots people have personal sentiments to their local leaders,” he said. “Based on comparisons with the last elections, we are very confident.”

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