Predictions that a proliferation of small political parties would splinter the opposition vote may have been borne out at Sunday’s commune election polls, prompting social media outcry from CNRP supporters, even as smaller parties bristled at the accusation they had stolen votes destined for the main opposition.
Though official results remained incomplete as of yesterday, The Post was able to identify at least 30 communes where the total number of votes won by small parties was greater than the margin by which the Cambodia National Rescue Party lost to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
In Taing Yab commune in Takeo province, for example, the CNRP lost to the CPP by only six votes, while the newcomer Grassroots Democracy Party won over 151 voters. In Damnak Sokram commune in Kampot province, the CNRP received 580 votes to the CPP’s 810 votes – a margin of 230 – while the GDP took in 386.
CNRP supporters were quick to take to Twitter to point out the possibility that the GDP had siphoned votes away from the opposition party. “Small parties are helping CPP to win,” one user wrote, even suggesting that they may have been hired by the ruling party to do so.
“I recommend you to do research before making this kind of statement. We compete with both parties,” countered Yang Saing Koma, founder and president of the GDP, in a tweet of his own.
“CNRP supporters all use the same language, that we the GDP take the votes from them,” Koma later told The Post, adding that the CNRP had used this sort of rhetoric during the campaign to try to keep voters from switching to his party.
“We do not take the vote away from any party ... It’s not the vote belonging to CNRP, it’s the vote of that Cambodian citizen,” Koma said.
The League for Democracy Party may also have played spoiler, the results show, raking in 145 votes in Kampong Cham’s Sandek commune, for instance, where the CNRP lost by just 90 votes.
However, leadership from the LDP also took umbrage with the suggestion that the party somehow stole votes.
“People have the right to vote for any party. We never complain when other parties try to get our voters,” LDP President Khem Veasna said.
“We just express ourselves to the people to let them understand, and let them freely decide on their own.”
Of course, the insinuation that smaller parties robbed the CNRP of its rightful communes depends on the assumption that they – as opposed to the ruling party – would have received the vast majority of small party votes, an assumption it is impossible to prove.
Indeed, the CNRP did manage to win some tight races in which smaller parties were a factor, including in communes like Koh Tasuy in Kratie province, where the CPP lost by just one vote, with the LDP getting 10.
Meanwhile, in Pate commune in Ratanakkiri province, it could be argued that the CNRP snatched victory from the hands of the GDP. The smaller party won 289 votes in that commune, only 30 less than the CPP, and 42 more than the CNRP. If a handful of the CNRP’s 247 voters had jumped ship, the GDP could have secured its first commune chief seat.
As it turned out, however, the CNRP lost the commune – the only one the opposition won in Ratanakkiri in 2012 – to political newcomer and one-time government critic Chhay Thy, a former rights worker who made a surprise jump to the CPP.
In spite of cases like that one, however, analyst Ou Virak, the founder of the Future Forum think tank, said it was most likely that in the absence of parties like the GDP and LDP, their votes would have gone to the CNRP.
Still, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann stopped short of saying smaller parties’ votes would have gone to the CNRP, but did acknowledge that his party had narrowly lost some communes where smaller parties won enough votes to sway the results. “We would like to appeal to the GDP to reconsider and maybe join the CNRP,” Sovann said, explaining that the two parties had a better chance to defeat the CPP if they worked together.
But Cham Bunthet, a political analyst and adviser to the GDP, said a merger was unlikely. Characterising the GDP as a “grassroots liberal party” and the CNRP as a “top-down nationalist party”, Bunthet said the two were just too different.
Instead, Bunthet said GDP’s next step lay in policy advocacy. “The half-a-million-dollar commune budget proposal was from GDP, but they took it,” Bunthet asserted, referring to CNRP President Kem Sokha’s pledge to cut funding for government ministries in order to give every commune a local budget of $500,000.
Far from being angry with CNRP for allegedly taking the idea, Bunthet was encouraged, saying the GDP was already achieving its goal of shifting the nation’s political rhetoric from insults to hard policy. “It’s good for the people,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kong Meta