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SRP touts senate gains

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The Sam Rainsy Party was celebrating unofficial senate election results yesterday, claiming to have increased its number of seats in the upper house from two to 11 despite the incumbent government winning an overwhelming majority of the preliminary ballot results.

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Officials count votes for the national senate election yesterday at a polling station in a school in the capital’s Boeung Trabek commune.

Early results showed the SRP had won 21.93 per cent of the vote. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party dominated as expected, with 77.81 per cent after initial polling by the National Election Committee ahead of official results to be announced on Saturday.

Fifty-seven of the 61 seats in the Cambodian senate are being contested in the election. Two of the remaining four will be appointed by the legislative house of parliament, the National Assembly, and the others by King Norodom Sihamoni.

In a vote derided by some analysts and observers as undemocratic because its participants are limited to commune-council members rather than the public, the SRP last night claimed a modicum of success.

From France, where he lives in self-imposed exile after a spate of criminal convictions in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy hailed the result as a brilliant success that was particularly meaningful because in this ballot, the SRP was pitted solely against the CPP.

“Even though the election system and the broadcast media remain very biased toward the CPP . . . if we are still there and we not only maintain our presence but increase it from two to 11 when the current is against us, we must be very strong to swim against the current,” he said.

“The CPP tried to buy us like hell. They have the power of money. In a poor country like Cambodia, another party would have disintegrated,” Sam Rainsy said, referring to several alleged and one confirmed attempt by their political rivals to buy SRP votes.

But in an election uncontested by all other opposition groups including Funcinpec, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and the Human Rights Party, others were less upbeat about the SRP’s gains.

Son Soubert, an outspoken government critic and high privy councillor to King Norodom Sihamoni, said the preliminary results suggested the party had not fully absorbed the void left by the absence of other opposition contenders.

“Well, it’s not a bad result, but it’s not enough, because the HRP did not register any candidates, but instead told their members to vote in favour of the SRP. [The SRP] should have gotten more,” he said.
“If they could have 20 seats or something like that, it would be an occasion to rejoice,” he said.

In Cambodia’s bicameral parliament, senators, who serve six-year terms, play a largely advisory role through committees. The senate has no power to veto or even add amendments to legislation from the National Assembly.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he was not worried about SRP gains, pointing out that his party still held a two-thirds majority in the senate and the National Assembly.  

“This result is normal, but CPP has still won a landslide number,” Cheam Yeap said.

“Don’t accuse the CPP or don’t say the election is not just any more, and don’t boycott any more.”  

COMFREL executive director Koul Panha said his organisation had chosen not to appoint its officers to participate in the vote because about $US500,000 had been spent on a useless election that allowed only members of political parties to vote along party lines.

“Commune councillors vote for their party, what does it mean? Because they have no choice. They vote for their party, so it is meaningless.

“This election system is meaningless,” he said.

In total, 11,412 votes had been cast by 11,470 eligible commune officials, the NEC reported.

The strongest result for the CPP – 81.45 percent – was recorded in region 7, which comprises Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces, while the SRP fared best in region 1 – Phnom Penh – with 34.76 per cent of the ballot.

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