Tens of thousands of voters will enter polling booths on June 5 to vote on a ballot with only one party to choose from: In 24 communes, including eight in Phnom Penh, the ruling CPP is the only available choice.
National Election Committee documents show the CPP running unopposed in a cluster of communes around Phnom Penh’s O’Russei market and Olympic Stadium as well as a smattering in Kampong Cham, Pursat, Ratanakiri and four other provinces. For some residents, the lack of choice is a disappointment. For the largest opposition party, it points to irregularities. And for a sitting commune chief, it means an admittedly easy campaign and reelection.
Pov Samoch, the commune chief of Phnom Penh’s Phsar Depot I who will be running unopposed on June 5, said she hasn’t done a lot of campaigning because there was only one party in her commune.
“We don’t need to campaign much,” Samoch said. “But we’re not silent. We’ve invited people to go vote, even though there’s only one party, to express their opinions.”
According to Samoch, other parties were not contesting the commune because they couldn’t find enough candidates. In O’Russei I, CPP commune chief candidate Chea Sophin said the same of other parties in his commune.
The Candlelight Party disputes that characterization, however. Two months ago, the municipal election committee rejected the opposition party’s submission of candidates in Phsar Depot I, a decision that was upheld by the National Election Committee on April 1.
And Sor Longdeth, Candlelight’s executive for Phnom Penh, said O’Russei I was among several communes where elections officials had disqualified candidates based on ruling party complaints.
Initially, Candlelight said it had submitted candidates in all but three of the country’s 1,652 communes, but over weeks of NEC hearings has ended up 29 communes short. The process was riddled with accusations of pressure and bribes from the ruling party.
Many of the complaints accused candidates of being illiterate.
“They use CPP people to file the complaint, so it was unfair for us since that time,” Longdeth said, alleging some of Candlelight’s candidates had been bought off amid the complaints. “All of those eight communes were dissolved.”
Last week, commune-election campaigning was active around the capital, including the ruling CPP’s billboards displayed throughout the city’s street corners. In an alley near O’Russei market, Yim Chean, 66, said she had heard there was only one party contesting in her commune of O’Russei II.
“I feel disappointed because we don’t have options to choose from — there’s only one. If there were two, we could consider: this one or that one?” Chean said. “I don’t want to have only one because, as a citizen, we should have the right to choose.”
Sou Chanthy, a resident in Phsar Depot I, said she also wanted to see other parties competing, but it wouldn’t change her vote.
“I want to know about other new candidates and what they discuss, but I’ve seen only the CPP” campaigning, Chanthy said.
Nevertheless, it could be good to have no competition as rivalries can cause turmoil in the country, she said.
“Like we saw before, when there was strong competition, it led to turmoil and demonstrations,” Chanthy said. “When there is turmoil, the price of goods increases.”
She said she did not want to say anything more. “When we have many ideas, we make more mistakes,” she said.
Another resident of a CPP-only commune, Hang Sophy, 37, of Boeng Trabek, said she would vote, but didn’t really care about the choices since making money was her priority.
“I don’t know. I feel normal. What I care about is earning income for my children,” Sophy said while preparing her broiled chicken stall. “Let them decide.”
The eight Phnom Penh communes where the CPP is running unopposed are Boeng Trabek, Mittapheap, Monorom, O’Russei I, O’Russei II, Phsar Depot I, Phsar Doeum Kor and Toul Svay Prey I. The CPP won six of those communes in 2017, to the opposition CNRP’s two. The votes were close: Across the eight communes, the CPP received 18,541 votes; the CNRP 18,492.
There are also seven CPP-only communes in Ratanakiri, three in Pursat, two in Kampong Cham and one each in Koh Kong, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear and Svay Rieng.