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78% turnout at ‘smooth’ commune elections: NEC

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An elderly man votes in the commune council elections at Tuol Kork High School in the capital’s Tuol Kork district on June 5. Hong Menea

78% turnout at ‘smooth’ commune elections: NEC

The June 5 commune council elections concluded with a 77.91 per cent turnout, with observers and party officials noting that voting had proceeded without incident in polling stations across the country.

However, some party leaders have expressed concern that doors at election stations had been closed during the vote count, preventing the public from witnessing the process – a matter which has been dismissed by National Election Committee (NEC) officials as a non-issue.

The NEC said that the 5th mandate commune elections “went smoothly and without violence”, and announced that it recorded a 77.91 per cent turnout, with over seven out of nine million eligible voters casting their ballots between 7am and 3pm.

The committee said Kep was the province with the highest voter turnout, at 87.25 per cent of all registered voters, followed by Kandal at 85.46 per cent and Svay Rieng at 85.09 per cent. Meanwhile, Banteay Meanchey recorded the lowest turnout of all the provinces, at 67.49 per cent.

Speaking at a press conference after the close of voting, NEC chairman Prach Chan said he believed that the national voter turnout was high, noting that the number was slightly impacted by “weather issues” and the inability of overseas Cambodians to vote. “Looking at some other countries in the world, this turnout is relatively high,” he said.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his ballot in the 2022 commune council elections in Kandal province’s Takhmao town on June 5. Heng Chivoan

Chan said preliminary results of the elections will be announced starting from 6pm on June 6 until noon on June 7, while the official result will be announced on June 26.

As of the evening of June 5, no overall election results had been announced.

Son Chhay, vice-president of the Candlelight Party – the second largest with candidates fielded across the country – expressed concern about reports that some election stations had closed their doors during the vote count.

He said such a practice made the process opaque and was against the NEC’s own rules, which allow for the public to watch the count from a minimum of 15m away.

The NEC chairman refuted Chhay’s citation of the rules, saying that doors can be closed during the ballot counting, with political agents and observers allowed into the station to witness the process.

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National Election Committee (NEC) officials begin counting the commune council elections ballots at Bun Rany Hun Sen High School in Koh Dach commune of the capital’s Chroy Changvar district on June 5. Hong Menea

“There is probably no other election that is more transparent than that of Cambodia’s, where we count the votes at the polling station directly,” Chan said. “We all can see the election results right away. No one can hide the results and no one can rig them. The results are posted and photos can be taken... So, [the results and process] are transparent enough.”

Asked if the elections were free, fair and democratic, Chan said: “If people say the elections are not democratic, I wouldn’t understand their logic. Normally, if there are at least two parties, we can say [the election process] is democratic. But the number of votes for each party will depend on the will of the voters who made the decision.

“The NEC has tried our best to make the election fair and just,” he said.

NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said more than 30 polling stations in seven provinces had been relocated due to incidents such as weather conditions and poor construction. An election station in Kampong Cham province was moved 4km away from the original site, having collapsed into the nearby river.

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A security guard directs voters to a polling station for the commune council elections at Tuol Kork High School in the capital’s Tuol Kork district on June 5. Hong Menea

Mork Sopharith, polling station chief at Bun Rany Hun Sen Prek Thmey secondary school in the captial’s Chbar Ampov district, said voter turnout was as high as the last elections and went without any incidents.

He said that at one station, up to 50 per cent of voters had already cast their ballots by 10am.

“Before election day, we had already distributed information cards and posted announcements. So when they came, they noted their number and verified it again when they cast their ballots.

“Election officials helped them find their names and they could vote quickly. Generally speaking, Cambodians nowadays understand a lot about elections,” he said, adding that only a few had turned up at the wrong station as they had not confirmed it ahead of time.

Sin Channy, an observer from the Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD), said she saw that voters generally spent “less than 10 minutes” casting their ballot as they had already known the required information, having received assistance from staff of civil society organisations who were on hand at polling stations.

“Voters came out of their own free will; no one had forced them to. There was no protest, argument or violence,” she said.

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Voters casting ballots in the 5th mandate commune council elections at a pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. Heng Chivoan

Vann Veth, a resident of Prek Thmey commune, said he had “fulfilled his duties as a citizen” by voting to elect leaders that he believed would serve in the public interest.

“It looks like the preparations this time were much better than the previous elections,” he said. “In the past, when we came to vote, we had to stand in line under the hot sun. But now, as long as we know our station number, we can just vote after the official verifies our document.”

He said that no matter which party wins the elections, they should respect the people’s demand for increased development of their villages and communes, especially on transport and educational infrastructure, as well as improved provision of public services.

He said he believed that Cambodians wished to avoid seeing politicians “begging” for votes only during the election season, who would otherwise turn their backs on voters.

“If the commune chiefs do a good job, then we should vote for them, no matter from which party they are from,” he said.

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