Two weeks ago, Kandal erupted. Skirmishes broke out at multiple polling stations where voters were left off the list, and at least one was forced to shut down as locals blocked what they claimed were outsiders from voting.
In the end, this hotly contested province swung for the first time. The CPP garnered only 40 per cent of the vote to the CNRP’s 56 per cent, and won just five of 11 seats, based on preliminary NEC figures.
Less than 20 kilometres away from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home in Takhmao town lies the epicentre of much of the election day unrest. In Sa’ang district, every village in some communes went to the opposition. And as local authorities struggle to cope with the loss, some villagers claim they’re bearing the brunt.
“The village chiefs are angry because they paid a lot of money and the results weren’t very good,” Tat Samoun said with a laugh. The 66-year-old opposition commune councillor in Sa’ang Phnom has spent the better part of the past two weeks calming agitated villagers.
In Tanou village, where Samoun has lived nearly his whole life, “the village chief comes through here and shouts, ‘Why did the CNRP win? A lot of people voted number four.’”
“The previous election was won by the CPP, this one went to the CNRP,” he said. All told, the opposition won by some 2,000 votes in this commune of 10,000 voters, according to Samoun.
On election day, polling station 1204 was shut down at 9am after villagers attempted to block voters whom they said were trucked in from distant provinces to vote. One man was detained for nine hours but ultimately released without charges.
After the results came out, however, “village security guards began going around saying they were looking for 10 people in connection to that. I don’t know why,” Samoun said.
They refuse to say who they’re looking for, they “don’t come face to face. They just threaten people in the coffee shop, saying they’re looking for 10 people more”.
In a village where hundreds were responsible for blocking voters, such threats unsettle.
“I tell them – when you walk, don’t go alone. Walk with two or three people.”
Adhoc has received a number of complaints along the same lines, head of monitoring Ny Chakrya said.
“Normally, the threats happen before the election – this election is very different from the previous election. The threat happens more after election day.... Local authorities are angry with the people [for not voting CPP].”
They’re doubtless suffering. In many of these areas, previous elections went swiftly and simply to the CPP. This year, thanks to straightforward financial incentives ($10 a month for pensioners, $150 for garment workers and $250 for civil servants), the CNRP managed to eke out a place amid fans of the CPP’s promises of roads and bridges.
Or, as Huy Phan, 48, put it: “During the campaign period, 700 sarongs were handed out in this village [by the CPP]; but when it was time to vote, they only got 300 votes.”
In Phan’s village of Preak Chhlong, there have been little in the way of overt threats. But recognising how much outlay local authorities have made and how little they received in return, villagers speak of a tense atmosphere.
“They don’t threaten, but they blame those people [who voted CNRP].... They say bad words to them every day. And we’re not scared, but it makes people very angry,” Phan, said.
Some claim the anger has veered into the territory of threats.
“Now, I don’t leave my house at night. I’m scared about my security,” said Yin Out, from nearby Peak Khmer village.
“[The deputy village chief] yells from the road, he yells into my house, he gets very aggressive.... Every day, he attacks me. He says: why did you take my sarongs, why did you take my money and not vote for us?”
Deputy village chief Kin Leang shot down such accusations, saying he had done nothing intimidating, merely lost his temper after Out accused him of dismantling a bridge to prevent Sam Rainsy from entering a recent rally in Sa’ang.
“I did not threaten her, and I did not file a complaint against her. I just blamed her when I was angry [with what she said].”
Similarly, Sa’ang Phnom commune chief Sar Vichet defended his subordinates, saying that all authorities had been well trained “not to react”.
“They just accuse us, but we did not do anything to them,” he said.
In fact, Vichet said, it was local authorities who had been targeted by voters – not the other way around.
“Recently, they said they wanted me to tear down my office because we lost. But we don’t care what they said. We just calm [them] down.”
But according to Adhoc’s Chakrya, the number of cases had been mounting. In the two weeks since election, the group had received approximately 15 complaints.
“I can’t say if the problem is widespread or not, but we have heard the concern,” he said. “Since election day, more cases have happened. Until now, we don’t see the legal institutions or government taking action against this intimidation.”