A little more than four years ago, Cambodians lined up at polling booths to cast their ballots and to pick the country’s next government.
Opposition supporters – some finding their names missing names from voter lists – turned up to support the combined forces of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, which had merged into the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Despite allegations of voter fraud, the opposition stunned observers by taking 55 parliamentary seats, the closest any party has come to unseating the ruling Cambodian People’s Party since 1993.
Four years later, though, many of those same voters are looking ahead to next year’s elections with a sense of fatalism, with CNRP President Kem Sokha jailed on widely condemned “treason” charges, opposition lawmakers scattered across the world and the dissolution of the party seemingly imminent.
The potential nullification of the 2013 CNRP vote share, which was a close 44 percent to the CPP’s 48 percent, and the proposed distribution of its seats to minor parties, has left opposition voters like Kampong Cham resident Kong Chhay angry and disillusioned.
His province gave the CNRP nearly a fifth of its seats, and he remembers the excitement at the prospect of voting for the new opposition party.
“I was so happy to find a good opposition party to compete with the ruling party. It meant in a democratic country we have the freedom to support and vote for a party we like,” he said yesterday.
But fast forward four years, and Chhay is looking at the potential eradication of his party of choice, and is unhappy at the benefactors.
“If the other parties do nothing to get support from people and just get the seats that CPP has divided for them – this is bad,” he said.
Proposed amendments to the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly would see the Funcinpec party get the lion’s share of the CNRP’s seats. The royalists would see 41 lawmakers in the assembly, with the rest divvied up among four other parties.
Back in Phnom Penh, Me Chouch, 28, was discussing the current political situation with fellow tuk-tuk drivers near the National Museum. He was the least resistant of the group to express his views on the CNRP’s potential dissolution, which is all but certain according to him.
“I can predict that no institution can oppose the request to dissolve the CNRP, which is the aim of the CPP. Also, these government institutions are all under one person: Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said.
Having to worry about day-to-day expenses and their effect on his family, Chouch knows the impacts of these developments are far reaching and beyond even his support of the CNRP.
“The important thing is the impact on our economic [situation] as voters, because if the politicians do not get along with each other, the international community, especially the investors, will get scared and will not invest,” he said.
Over on Koh Pich, Van Leakhna, a food vendor, said she has heard chatter among customers about the problems between the ruling and primary opposition party. Almost her entire family, who also work at the stall, is unanimous in their condemnation of the current “political game”.
“It only shows that this government thinks about only power and the interests of the party, and it does not consider the national interests and its people,” she said.
“We find it very difficult to understand which game the politicians of both parties are playing.”
Many capital residents from both parties were reluctant to speak yesterday, most fearing repercussions, while some worried they would be speaking against their respective parties’ public stance.
However, Kandal CPP supporter Thoung Sam Ouen was clear in her support for the current state of affairs. “The division of the CNRP’s seats to minority parties in the parliament is a good idea, as I think we’re better off having competition [in the elections],” she said.
But for CNRP supporters, the lack of a viable party means they likely won’t participate in next year’s elections.
“The election should not even be arranged as it is a waste of the national budget because it is useless,” street vendor Leakhna said.