As commune election results continued to trickle in yesterday, it was abundantly clear that Cambodia’s political landscape is now dominated by just two main competitors.
However, the Kingdom’s smaller parties, some with lofty ambitions, came away with a few successes.
While unofficial, early results published by government-aligned media outlet Fresh News show the Cambodian People’s Party won 1,163 of the country’s 1,646 communes on Sunday, with the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party coming in with 482 communes.
The only smaller party – among the 10 others that stood in Sunday’s poll – to win a commune was Nhek Bun Chhay’s Khmer National United Party (KNUP), which is believed to have won Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok commune.
The commune belonged to the royalist Funcinpec party in 2012, but flipped on Sunday after the Prince Norodom Ranariddh-led party spilt in 2016, with Bun Chhay leaving to form the KNUP.
KNUP spokesman Tum Sambol said the incumbent commune chief, Da Chhean, had jumped ship to the KNUP, which was critical in retaining the seat.
“In Thma Puok, people seemed to support the commune chief rather than the party. He served the people day and night, built roads and collected resources [for the commune],” Sambol said yesterday.
He added that the party had won a few commune council seats elsewhere, but did not have details, and said the party’s performance – it contested 713 communes nationally – was hampered by a lack of resources, despite an effort to target communes that could be favourable to them.
Meanwhile, Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chin, attributed his party’s underwhelming performance, in which they only won a few council seats, largely to the 2016 split.
Once a dominant force in the 1990s, Funcinpec won the most seats in 1993’s Untac-administered elections, but it has since shrunk considerably, in part due to Ranariddh’s exit in 2006.
The party only won a single Banteay Meanchey commune in 2012, and was left with no representation in the National Assembly after the 2013 elections.
“When the Prince [Ranariddh] came back and His Excellency [Bun Chhay] went to another side, it made our arrangements not smooth,” Bun Chin said. “We had internal problems, and we have been broken. So, people changed their trust to others.”
After the Bun Chhay exodus, Bun Chin said it was almost as if the party was starting anew and needed to be more strategic to tap into pockets of support still out there.
“In some communes people still like us, but they could not vote for us because we did not have candidates,” he said.
While the royalists are seen by some as relics from a previous political era, the Grassroots Democracy Party is a new entrant on the political scene.
Though little known, the GDP was thrust into the electoral spotlight in part due to its association with slain political commentator Kem Ley.
While it contested a meagre 27 communes, party President Yeng Virak said it had managed to secure five council seats – two in Ratanakkiri’s Pate commune, two in Kampong Thom’s Sakream commune and one in Kampot’s Damnak Sokram.
The Pate contest almost landed the GDP a commune chief position, but it narrowly lost to the CPP by a mere 20 votes, according to the National Election Committee’s preliminary results posted online.
The CNRP also has one seat on the commune’s five-member council, meaning the CPP will not have free rein, he added.
“The thing is, our strategic goal from the beginning [has been] to break this absolute rule by the ruling party or by any other one party,” Virak said.
Virak added that despite falling short of their target to win three to five communes, they were taking solace in the fact that their intraparty democratic principles whereby party candidates are chosen by a vote have been well received, and popular familiarity with the GDP’s policies is increasing.
A day after the results, however, some of the smaller parties seemed to be taking stock of their standing in the political arena.
Beehive Social Democratic Party Director Mam Sonando said yesterday that after not winning any council seats, he was open to the option of merging with a larger party, especially the Cambodia National Rescue Party as long as they shift focus from solely defeating the ruling party to other pressing policy issues. “Yes, I can unite with them only if they clean themselves,” he said.
“We have to unite for the sake of the nation. It is not like the union between Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, which was only to win over the CPP.”
A similar fate seems to await the League for Democracy Party (LDP). In a Facebook post, party head Khem Veasna yesterday said next year’s national election would be a bellwether for the LDP’s future.
“Two thousand eighteen is the year of a final decision, whether to continue or to leave in order to give an opportunity to other people,” he wrote, leaving it unclear if he would leave the party or dissolve it.
Party Secretary Chin Thon was quick to clarify that Veasna’s declaration did not necessarily mean he would leave the party, but that the LDP would reassess its electoral scope.
“After 2018, we will think whether to reduce the campaigns, public forums or what we would do [next],” he said.
Khmer Power Party head Suon Serey Ratha refused to speak about the party’s results yesterday but said he would set up consultation offices in every commune across the country to assist villagers in keeping their commune chiefs accountable.
“Because I want people to become the boss of the political parties,” he said.