Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, who is also vice-president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), called on CPP commune council candidates to respect the will of the people in the June 5 local elections, saying it would strengthen democracy at the community level.

“Speaking to CPP supporters and members in Battambang province’s Kors Kralor district on May 30, Sar Kheng told candidates from the party to be open-hearted and accept the public’s choices when it comes time to elect local leaders.

“We must take a long view in order to win the support of the people, and we should be proud of everyone who votes in the election – no matter who they vote for. This will reflect the strength of democracy in our country,” he said.

By partaking in the election, people are expressing their belief in the stability and peace that allow the elections to happen, he said.

The CPP, he added, has extensive experience leading the country and has demonstrated its warmth and care for the people, as evidenced by its Covid-19 vaccination programme, which has been rolled out with no discrimination – and was even accessible to foreigners free of charge.

Recalling the national election in 2018, Sar Kheng said an opposition group had called on the public not to vote but to stay home instead. Had only 40 per cent of voters turned out, the election would not have been acceptable, he noted, apparently referring to the call made by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Sar Kheng also met with more than 1,000 vendors and Christians on the same day.

Speaking to them, he said: “People have the right to elect their local leaders directly, which helps strengthen stability and democracy. Although there are sometimes opposing views regarding local issues, we still maintain solidarity as Cambodians.”

“We have made reforms at the commune level and introduced new resources. Both local people and international observers have acknowledged these reforms,” he added.

Son Chhay, vice-president of the Candlelight Party – the second-largest party with candidates fielded across the country – welcomed Sar Kheng’s statements as they were made by a top leader of the ruling party and showed a clear understanding of democratic principles.

He said that when the leadership demonstrates this kind of political awareness, progress and development can happen quickly.

Chhay also boasted that Candlelight candidates were prepared to cooperate closely with all other parties, meaning mixed leadership would be possible.

“What Sar Kheng said will make the commune council election process smoother, and encourage cooperation among successful candidates so they can serve the people effectively. The Candlelight Party will promote our candidates – and support them – according to the principles of democracy,” he said.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said Sar Kheng’s election campaign statement was likely to be helpful and would contribute to the election going smoothly, fairly and without fear.

“We – the members of civil society – want to see exactly what he said, that the election will be based on the will of the people, without fear or threats. I support this idea, and hope action will be taken against anyone who does not respect this principle,” he said.