Millions of Cambodians went to cast their ballots across the country on July 29. So too did people in Kampong Cham’s Mien commune.
Despite being a stronghold of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and the place where Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh was set to cast his ballot, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) looked poised to take most of the province’s ten National Assembly seats.
The province’s Mien commune saw a decisive victory for the CNRP in last year’s commune elections when their candidate received 3,606 votes to his CPP rival’s 2,721.
Seeking to leverage a leadership vacuum after the CNRP’s Supreme Court-mandated dissolution, Funcinpec made a push for seats in Kampong Cham.
However, supporters of the royalist party were disappointed when Prince Norodom Ranariddh wasn’t able to compete for a Kampong Cham seat due to a traffic accident in Preah Sihanouk province last month which took the life of his wife Ouk Phalla.
Yann Sokun, a Funcinpec lawmaker and candidate in the running for Kampong Cham’s second seat, told reporters he expects people to support his party.
“I urged people to support us by voting for Funcinpec, a royalist party led by the prince. I believe people will vote [for Funcinpec],” he said.
Sokun stopped short of explaining to reporters why the prince didn’t come to vote in Mein commune, despite his party’s previous announcements that he would.
“People in general like the prince ... As we all know Funcinpec won the 1993 elections, and it brought peace and development,” he said.
Ek Sam Orn, Funcinpec’s chief in Mien commune, told The Post that the party hoped to take at least two seats in Kampong Cham.
Chan Visothy, chief of Mien commune’s election committee, said 8,088 people had registered to vote in his commune.
Voter turnout seemed to be down at a polling station in Kampong Cham’s Prey Chhor district, however, with some people who declined to give their names saying they felt compelled to come, with some saying their children may not show up to vote.
Kuch Kong, 45, a Mien commune voter, said that he regretted that the CNRP was not able to participate in the election. Regardless, he decided to come and cast his ballot and have his finger coloured with voting ink.
“It was like breaking the spirit of some supporters. Whatever we tried [and accomplished] has come to nought. The country was heading in a good direction, but it seems to have taken a step backwards. I am disappointed,” he said.
Ou Chanrath, a former deputy president of the CNRP’s working group in Kampong Cham said he regrets that before the national election, independent news websites were restricted. This, he said made it difficult for people to obtain real news. He claimed the absence of the CNRP caused voter turnout to be low.
“This election is not the same. It was not as busy as the last one, even though I am told that voter turnout high in many places,” he said.
Yim Chhay Ly, a deputy prime minister and CPP lawmaker candidate in Kompong Cham province, went to cast his ballot at a polling station in the province’s capital.
Posting on his Facebook page on Sunday, Chhay Ly said people should fulfill their obligation as citizens and cast their vote.
After casting his ballot, Kheng Chanta, 22, said he believed the election was fair and just. He did not agree with the “sleep at home” campaign championed by former CNRP leaders, saying instead that the current leadership is good.
“I wasn’t pressured to come to vote. I like the current leaders who pay attention the people’s well being,” he said, adding that he was not a member of the ruling CPP but voted for the party he believed would do well for the people.
Kampong Cham Provincial Election Committee (PEC) director Meang Meng Houn said despite eight of the province’s 1,659 polling stations being relocated due to flooding, there were no major issues.
“I observed that the voter turnout was similar to that of the 2013 commune elections. People at the local level don’t seem upset or frustrated.
“They came to vote in the morning if they were free then, and in the afternoon if they were free at that time of the day. I don’t believe in the clean fingers campaign. People are more politically aware today ... they know that people who do, do not say, and people who say, do not do,” he said.
Kampong Cham was an important province for the CNRP compared to the ruling party, during the 5th mandate national election in 2013.
For example, among the 18 seats that were up for grabs, CNRP won over 10 of them. As of now, Kampong Cham has only 10 seats after the separation of Tbong Khmum province which had eight seats in 2014.
According to the NEC’s data from the 2013 national elections, Kampong Cham province had close to 1.3 million registered voters – 69 per cent of whom cast their vote.
Preliminary numbers from the NEC on Sunday stated that of Kampong Cham’s now 576,550 registered voters, 81per cent turned up to cast their votes.