Caretaker prime minister and president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party Hun Sen cast his vote in the 2018 national elections – in which preliminary turnout figures were said to be more than 82 percent – on Sunday morning, in front of some 100 national and international reporters.
After dropping his vote into the ballot box at polling station 1697 with his wife Bun Rany beside him in Kandal province’s Takhmao town, he returned to his car without fielding questions from the assembled media.
“We respect the law. [Election law] does not allow us to speak [at a polling station],” Hun Sen said. “We have to respect the law.”
Kandal provincial governor Mao Phirun told reporters: “I voted for the CPP. The election of the 6th legislature of the National Assembly – the main purpose is to strengthen democracy in Cambodia, and contribute to building Cambodia as a multi-party democracy to ensure Cambodia has peace and development.”
National Election Committee (NEC} spokesperson Dim Sovannarom also visited the station and told reporters about the process of guaranteeing a democratic election. He said: “First, we had 20 political parties compete on July 29. Second, we respect the Constitution and the law.”
In reply to reporters who asked whether the election was uncompetitive without the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sovannarom highlighted that “there were 19 opposition parties among the 20 political parties”.
He said the elections were held with more than 80,000 national and international monitors, of which 539 were from the International Conference of Asian Political Parties.
At polling station1697, there were monitors from two political parties – the CPP and the League for Democracy Party (LDP) – who were joined by those from the Union of Youth Federation of Cambodia, an organisation headed by Hun Many, Hun Sen’s son.
A number of voters at the station declined to discuss their attitudes to the polls. But Van Nin, 70, who wouldn’t reveal who she had voted for, said: “I want the party that will give people a decent livelihood.”
Around an hour after voting closed, the NEC announced the preliminary results of the 2018 Cambodian national elections, which showed that 82.17 per cent of eligible voters had turned out, an increase on 2013 when 69.61 per cent of voters cast their ballot.
NEC president Sik Bunhok hailed the turnout as a success – one he said showed the will of Cambodian citizens to respond to criticism from the international community over the nature of the elections.
“[The turnout] is the success of our elections,” Bunhok said at a press conference after the results were announced.
He said that of the more than 8,380,000 voters who were registered, the number of people who took part – in preliminary results as of 3pm when voting closed – was more than 6,885,729, which is equal to 82.17 per cent of the eligible electorate.
He said in 2013, the number of people voting was more than 6,730,000, or 69.61 per cent.
“We have seen that the will of Cambodian citizens was not the same as what was said by the opposition. They were happy and where had they received threats? You all saw their faces and heard the words they spoke in the media when asked about their will to vote."
“So I don’t think the opinion of the opposition party is at all correct. When we see the [turnout] percentage, it is a fact of Cambodia’s elections,” he said.
Bunhok also said that such a large turnout revealed the political maturity of Cambodian citizens throughout the Kingdom.
“There is a growing and stronger democracy in Cambodia. We should be proud of this,” he said.
Responding to a question as to why the turnout was higher this time than in 2013, Bunhok proudly said: “[The voters] understand their duty and obligations more and more – they [increasingly] know how to use their right to elect their leaders every five years.”
The NEC president said there would be no backlash from the international community after the elections as international participants had helped monitor the polls.
But, he said, if any member of the international community did criticise the elections, it would insult the will of the Cambodian people.
“The will of Cambodian people is reflected in the turnout figures, which shows the international community [what the Cambodian people wanted].”
He said the members of the international community who monitored the elections “were not ignorant. They came from advanced countries and . . . so did not just [act] ignorantly.”
Meanwhile, Khmer Will Party (KWP) president Kong Monika, after casting his ballot, expressed his hope that voters would choose his party and usher in positive change.
“We see that voter turnout is high and we hope the people will vote for a positive change in Cambodia . . . Today is a historic day when our Cambodian people must all come out and vote for the Khmer Will Party in order to achieve positive change.”
Kong Kam, former CNRP lawmaker and currently the advisor to his son Monika, said: “Today I use my right [to vote]. I hope after the elections, people will have happiness and progress.
“We would like to thank the national and international monitors who came to help witness the election environment. They were free and may the results be acceptable.”
LDP president Khem Veasna, who cast his ballot in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, said: “I came to vote. The big issue [for us] is our complaint about ballot papers that were not addressed and considered invalid. That is a big point.
“The general environment of the elections at this polling station is [satisfactory], but our monitoring agents at polling stations in the provinces said there has been vote-buying.
“There were tables for giving money [to voters] near the polling stations – we received the news this morning.”
Veasna said on his Facebook page that the turnout percentage this year was 80 per cent higher than in 2013. “This means all those who previously voted for CNRP turned to vote for the CPP [this time around],” he said.
Meanwhile, Sam Rainy, the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), posted a message on his Facebook saying that any victory that comes without real competition is “hollow”.
He said: “A victory without a contest is a hollow one. That’s the truth about the victory of Prime Minister Hun Sen in this Sunday’s elections – [it was] an easy victory as he had dissolved the only party that could have beaten him, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), well in advance.”
“This senseless victory does nothing to resolve the political crisis that Cambodia faces as a result of the regime’s totalitarian drift over the last 12 months.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan estimated that his party had won more than 70 per cent of the votes, while the other competing parties won less than 30 per cent in total.
“We think [we have] more than 90 seats at least. Not below [90 seats] . . . truly we can form a new government. There are no problems because the figures from all the provinces showed that we have already received more than 70 per cent [of the votes],” he said.
Eysan said he was very proud of the people who turned out to vote actively in peaceful elections under the monitoring of thousands of national and international observers.
“It shows that democracy in Cambodia has been constantly strengthened. We have no choice but to respect the precious will of the people through these elections,” he said.