Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women pushed aside: Many female candidates find themselves sliding down pecking order



Women pushed aside: Many female candidates find themselves sliding down pecking order

Female CNRP supporters and commune election candidates attend a meeting with opposition leader Kem Sokha earlier this month at party headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Female CNRP supporters and commune election candidates attend a meeting with opposition leader Kem Sokha earlier this month at party headquarters in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Women pushed aside: Many female candidates find themselves sliding down pecking order

Women’s rights activists have long decried the dearth of female representation on Cambodia’s political scene. But now many women who had been hoping to win office at Sunday’s commune elections say they have been deliberately pushed down their party’s ballot lists to make space for male candidates.

On Sunday, voters will cast ballots for the party they want to represent them in their communes for the next five years, with parties submitting lists of candidates who will take office on the local councils according to how many seats each wins.

The higher a candidate is on a party’s list, the higher the chance they have of being elected – and some women say they have ended up near the bottom of the lists, despite winning primary-style internal party ballots to decide the list order.

“Originally, I was voted to be ranked first – no one beat me,” Thong Someurn, a candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in Koki commune in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, said in an interview this week. “Now, in the end, I am only fourth on the list. I am of course upset, because the people voted for me.”

“I do not take things personally, as long as my party wins,” the commune council hopeful added. “But I am also very upset. Everyone discriminates against women candidates – and it happens on the national level, and in whatever party.”

Koki Commune Chief Kong Chheng, who has been the CPP’s top-listed candidate since commune elections were introduced in 2002, said that the ruling party had moved Someurn down the list because it did not believe she was as electable.

“A female candidate cannot run for commune chief when the people do not love or support her,” he explained, adding that he believed his record as chief made him the better top candidate.

“We do well, so people know and support us.” “Men and women have equal rights . . . [but] the one who is doing well attracts more supporters and will be a candidate,” Chheng explained.

Further north in Tbong Khmum province, Chou Ry, a commune council candidate for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said earlier this month that she had secured the fourth position on opposition party’s ballot – only to later be pushed down to the fifth to make place for a man with higher-up connections.

“I disagree with it, but what to do about it? The lawmakers told me to be quiet,” Juri said, explaining that the sudden narrowing of her chances of being elected to her council on Sunday was still stinging.

“It is really affecting me mentally,” she said. “I am sure I’m being discriminated against because I’m a woman.”

One female candidate in Kampong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier commune said she was left off the CPP’s list completely after winning its primary-style ballot.

“Among the more than 120 votes [cast], I got 120 votes, and they showed the votes transparently,” said Meas Sereyleak, a local activist for the ruling party, who said that the party then ran a second-round of elections in which she didn’t do as well.

“They kept the result secret and private, just saying that I won no votes. It is obvious that I am discriminated against because I’m a woman,” Sereyleak said. “The villagers are very upset, because they wanted me to be the candidate.”

A commune representative for the CPP could not be reached for comment, but Som Voeun, the Rolea Ba’ier CPP district governor, declined to comment.

CPP spokesman Sous Yara denied that any ruling party candidates were forced down lists after winning internal ballots. “They were pushed down on the list?” the spokesman asked. “That’s not true,” he said. “There’s no such a case.”

However, Thida Khus, director of local women’s rights group Silaka, said it was not new for men in politics to strongarm women out of positions in Cambodia.

“The men who are first on the list refuse to leave,” Khus said, attributing the dearth of women in politics in Cambodia to the widespread practice. “A lot of women have been kicked out or kicked down on the ballot list.”

Another official from Silaka, Seng Reasey, explained that some women hoping to win political office accepted worse positions when prompted by men in their party so as not to rock the party’s boat during a politically precarious time.

“Men tell them, ‘You’re just a newcomer, and you’re just a woman. If you stay here, the men will step back’. So the women are in a dilemma,” Reasey said. The women still wanted to support their party, so they accepted the lower position.

It Sakhorn, a CNRP candidate in Rong Damrei commune in Prey Veng province, said she had in fact asked that she be switched from the first to the second rank on the opposition’s list after being convinced she was not a suitable flag-bearer for the party in the commune elections “because of my limited knowledge and resources”.

“Now the first candidate is a man,” Sakhorn said. “I regret this.”

The CNRP’s district chief, Ngin Chhorn, said the change in order was appropriate because Sakhorn’s assessment of her strength as a candidate had been correct, with the male candidate who replaced her having “negotiated” the change with her.

“It’s their own decision. The lady’s education was lower than the man’s,” he said.

Gender and Development for Cambodia Executive Director Ros Sopheap said a lack of support from party leaders for women looking to run for office was proving a decisive factor in limiting their numbers, saying both parties could do more.

“Women told us, ‘I don’t have any encouragement from my boss. If I had, I would have stayed on’,” Sopheap said. “The men immediately say ‘yes, move down’.”

Further complicating things, said Prak Chanposda, an advocacy officer at GADC, were unsupportive husbands who did not want their wives involved in politics. As women are often the primary caregivers in their households, many of their spouses would tell them their families lacked time and financial resources for them to run for office.

Chanposda gave the example of another Prey Veng candidate. “She was number two,” she said. “She said she needed more time to work, but her husband wasn’t happy that she’d work at night time and lunch time, so he threatened to leave her.

“So she had to choose between husband and work. And she chose her husband.”

This was made even more difficult, Chanposda said, by some parties’ demands for money to run for commune office.

The CNRP had asked its candidates to make personal contributions to campaign costs, with those at the top of the ballot expected to pay as much as as $500. “[The women] are happy to pay, but . . . their husbands always ask, ‘Why do you need to pay that money? Why do you need to work in this job?’” she said.

CNRP Vice President Mu Sochua, who served as minister for women’s affairs until 2004, admitted that there had been many complaints submitted to the CNRP’s women’s movement about female candidates being moved down lists.

“We have dealt with as many cases as possible but we could not deal with all of them,” Sochua said, noting the CNRP has been “very decentralised” in its approach to the elections, allowing each commune a lot of power over its list.

“We wanted the local level to learn the democratic processes,” she said. “It was not a totally smooth process,” she said. “I’m also not happy with this. Women without connections don’t have their voices heard.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Rise in Thai air routes to Siem Reap fuels travel hopes

    Local tourism industry players are eager for regional airline Bangkok Airways Pcl’s resumption of direct flight services between the Thai capital and Siem Reap town on August 1 – home of Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park – which is expected to boost the growth rate of

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’