Opposition candidates, even those who won in 2017, are coming to terms with defeat at the polls, while some are continuing to argue that there were problems in the election.
A former opposition commune chief in Stung Treng, Siek Mekong, said he had failed to win back the Srekor commune seat this time as a Candlelight Party candidate. He said he was disappointed, and felt there was a lack of transparency on Sunday.
“There were many officials standing at every gate. This type of action threatens the people,” he said.
Other, smaller parties also struggled: The royalist Khmer National United Party — the only party to have held a commune chief seat after the dissolution of the CNRP — came third in its stronghold of Banteay Meanchey’s Thmar Pouk.
Teum Nhan said the ruling party got around 1,800 votes, Candlelight 900 and the KNUP 800.
“I am disappointed. Before, we had my team working together, but now I will work alone,” Nhan said, explaining that he would continue as a councilor. “But I will try to work for people.”
Funcinpec’s Sok Reaksmey, in Takhmao city’s Prek Hou, said his party only got around 700 voters, but claimed unfairness.
“It is inappropriate to push them to vote, and there was also pressure on voters too.”
NEC chairman Prach Chan said allegations about polling places being closed and windows blacked out during vote-counting could have just been about the stormy weather.
“It might be that the brothers and sisters were afraid about the weather,” he said. In terms of local officials standing around polling places and recording who came to vote, Chan said that they may have just been looking out for people missing the election “so they can go to remind them.”
In Siem Reap, the ruling party’s provincial governor Tea Seiha told VOD that he expected the CPP to win all top positions there based on the party’s monitors.
“We did not lose any communes,” Seiha said.
Battambang provincial governor Sok Lou said that based on reports from the ruling party’s election observers, the CPP won every commune-chief seat in his province.
The Candlelight Party had come second overall and taken some first- and second-deputy commune chief positions, he said.
“The result is good because, firstly, people supported the candidates to be members of the commune council, and, secondly, they supported the CPP government’s policies,” Lou said.
He recounted the country’s successful Covid-19 vaccination drive as well as the CPP’s pillars of peace and development.
“The CPP gained all seats of commune chief,” he added.
Lou is one of several provincial governors claiming sweeping victories online: Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng claimed all 105 communes in the capital.
The National Election Committee has also begun to post official results. VOD is tracking the results on its commune elections landing page. So far, many are showing strong results for the ruling party.
Candlelight Party treasurer Seng Mardi said he was feeling “not well” by about 6:30 p.m. as CPP officials were announcing preliminary victory in the provinces.
Based on reports from local Candlelight offices, Mardi said, “it appears that in more than 70% of polling stations, the gates were locked” to monitors. “If we cannot witness the counting, whatever they claim will come true,” he said. “Congratulations to them.”
The party always knew that the playing field would be lopsided, he added, but “we could have at least expected voters to express their will — but it appears these results don’t reflect that will.”
Kandal deputy provincial governor Nou Peng Chandara said that according to the temporary result across Kandal province, the CPP had won all 127 commune chief positions.
“Got them all,” Peng Chandara said.
The National Election Committee has released province-by-province turnout figures.
The trend continues. In Tbong Khmum’s Kroch Chhmar district, the Candlelight Party’s Van Sophat said the party appeared to have won only one of seven seats in Kampong Treas commune. “We used to win four commune chiefs” in the district, he said referring to the previous election, when the opposition ran under the CNRP banner. “Now we’ve heard we are losing many. … This mandate we’ve dropped far down. We resent that they have suppressed and harassed us everywhere in all ways — they do not allow us to do it neutral and fair — we do politics with fear.”
Candlelight Party candidates are continuing to report pessimism based on early results at individual polling stations.
Nhan Sarom, in Oddar Meanchey’s O’Smach commune — where the opposition did well in previous votes — said early returns were dismal.
“I think I lost. There are three polling stations where we lost. We totally lost,” Sarom said. “We regret it, but this is the people’s choice. The election process was unfair because authorities threatened people to vote for the CPP. We will meet with other candidates and the upper level to discuss this. It is difficult to believe why we totally lost.”
The NEC has added that results compiled for communes should start to be announced around 6 p.m.
The National Election Committee has announced a 77.91% voter turnout for Sunday’s commune election, a significant drop from the 90% reported during the 2017 election.
NEC spokesperson Som Sorida released the final voter late Sunday afternoon. Turnout for the controversial 2018 national election, where the ruling CPP won all National Assembly seats, was 83%.
A Candlelight Party candidate near the airport dispute in Kandal says things are not looking good for her. Oeurng Sary, commune-chief candidate in Prek Sleng, said the challenge was too steep for an emerging party.
“We didn’t have the resources,” Sary said. “I came to stand as a candidate from my heart, and spent my own resources, because we hate suppression so we needed to stand up.”
She added that there was harassment of election observers from her party. “We recruited them and they came to harass them at their homes — how can it be fair,” she said.
Doeum Reus commune-chief candidate Ros Savoeun, also in Kandal, said just before 5 p.m. that he had likely won some seats, but not the commune.
Elsewhere in the country, observers and officials debated over the validity of ballots. In one room in a Battambang school in O’Char commune, several ballots in which the checkmark exceeded the box and touched the other party’s — both Candlelight and CPP had examples — caused a 10-minute hang up as the Candlelight monitor and NEC official argued over how to recount the ballots. They agreed to consider both the CPP and Candlelight examples to be legible and recounted them toward the total tally.
4:55 p.m. Candlelight, Licadho Allege Observers Blocked from Monitoring Vote Count
Candlelight treasurer Seng Mardi alleged that multiple polling stations across the country were preventing poll observers from monitoring the counting of votes. He spoke of a specific commune in Kandal, but also pointed to Battambang, Kampong Cham and Siem Reap — all hopeful provinces for the Candlelight Party.
Local rights NGO Licadho also reported the closing of doors and window shades by polling station chiefs in at least nine provinces: Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kandal, Kep, Phnom Penh, Pursat, Svay Rieng and Takeo.
In most cases, this prevented people who were not accredited as election observers from viewing the vote counting process.
In a polling station in Battambang’s Hun Sen Primary School, where Candlelight commune-chief candidate Sin Rozeth voted earlier in the day, officials blocked off the polls with red tape starting around 2:55 p.m. Roughly 6,900 voters showed up in total, or 68% of O’Char’s voters, according to an NEC official.
In one of the dozen or so ballot-counting rooms dotted around the school campus, in a steady rhythm, a woman held up each ballot individually and showed the checked box — Candlelight, CPP or Khmer Love Party — to the two election monitors and the handful of other NEC officials, one of whom added tally marks with a marker to a large counting paper mounted on the wall. With each ballot, she announced the vote, alternating between No. 1 for CPP and No. 2 for Candlelight.
About half an hour into the count, an NEC official outside the voting rooms shouted: “One party, only one monitor inside, and the other one can stay outside,” causing a few monitors to exit the counting rooms. “Don’t close the door, don’t close the window.”
Counting has begun at 23,602 polling stations across the country. Polling officials are emptying ballot boxes and sorting through ballots. Other officials will start writing party names on blackboards and whiteboards for the tallying of votes.
At one polling place at a Phnom Penh Boeng Keng Kang high school, reporters watched as one station with 170 registered voters needed to repeat its count after their tally added up to 173.
Election results will start to flow in on state broadcaster TVK and on an NEC website that is currently “either overloaded or under maintenance.”
VOD will also keep track of key candidates profiled during the campaign period.
Reporting by Keat Soriththeavy, Fiona Kelliher, Phin Rathana, Danielle Keeton-Olsen, Roun Ry, Mech Dara, Meng Kroypunlok and Ouch Sony