Updated: Voters Cast Ballots Across Country Under Watchful Gaze
Polling stations are closing on a quiet note, as election day will now transition to vote-counting. Some early results are expected this evening.
At Ang Primary School in Battambang’s O’Char commune, where at least 200 people had crowded outside three buildings to vote around 8 a.m., the grounds were almost entirely empty in the last 30 minutes before polls closed, save for a few stragglers and around a dozen election officials, who sipped ice coffee and checked their phones as the day came to a close. Koem Sinat, an NEC official, said that about 75% of the station’s nearly 2,000 voters had shown up, arriving almost entirely in the morning.
An exception was Meas Chandara, a 38-year-old resident who brought his wife to vote. He is registered elsewhere and couldn’t make it there, he said.
In O’Char, he added, the red pebble road to his wife’s home has not changed since his childhood growing up in the commune. “I regret that I couldn’t vote,” he said, “because five years is a long time to choose a new commune chief that could bring development.”
More than 5 million people have voted across the country as of the early afternoon, the National Election Committee said, as less than an hour remains before polls close at 3 p.m.
NEC spokesman Sam Sorida said the turnout so far was around 60%. There are more than 9 million registered voters in the country.
“People are coming to vote at a good rate and so far,” Sorida said, adding that numbers were fairly similar across all provinces. The tiny Kep province already had 80% turnout, he said.
Meanwhile, an official from the opposition Candlelight Party alleged that some of its election monitors had been persuaded to stay away from the polling stations today.
In the last two nights, the party lost several hundred election monitors who unexpectedly dropped out, including an entire commune in Siem Reap, said party treasurer Seng Mardi. Mardi said multiple local Candlelight leaders had reported that as soon as the party distributed badges last night, local authorities followed up and paid people as much as $200 to “sit at home” instead of monitor, though he added it’s “very difficult to come up with actual evidence.”
“That is a major setback for us,” he said. “The important part is the vote counting. If we don’t have party agents to observe in the polling stations, that could skew the results.”
In Kandal province, Hun Sen Prek Russei Primary School was buzzing with motorbike traffic and queues, as voters searched for their place among 15 polling locations inside the school. Residents from multiple Kandal province communes greeted each other and showed off ink-stained fingers — sometimes ruining a manicure — as they streamed in and out of the school, which is across the street from the Prek Russei commune office and police station.
Polling workers at every single station VOD visited inside the school stopped reporters to check their badges.
Observers and polling staff rigidly applied rules inside the Prek Russei school. An observer stopped one woman from entering polling station No. 1674, directing her to another spot in the school compound. In station No. 1676, a worker and chief of the station were watchful of voter actions, asking voters to show the red stamp on their ballot before they dropped it in the box. One poll worker swatted away a man’s left hand as he attempted to ink his finger, asking him to use the right instead.
Heng Panhadeth, 18, left polling station No. 1674 after having cast his first ballot, saying he was eager to vote to make sure the country has peace and a good leader. His older brother, Heng Vannly, 28, said that the Prek Russei commune chief had never charged them for processing documents, so he was doing a good job.
As she walked out of polling station No. 1665, Heng Mouyheang was thinking of her husband, saying that in eight days it will be the 100th-day anniversary of his death. Mouyheang, a 52-year-old resident of Prek Luong commune, said that her husband used to work measuring land for the government, and after he died, her son was following in his footsteps, recently gaining a lower-ranked position in the same department. Mouyheang appreciated that the Prek Luong commune chief had come to grieve with her after her husband died.
The commune chief had also ensured the roads were improved, but she hoped the incoming commune chief would not bring too much more development to the commune.
Mouyheang did not want to share who she voted for, but said she wanted the same situation as had been happening in the commune.
“I go with whomever I live with,” she said, implying her opinion on the chief would follow the vote of her husband or son.
Her only desire from an incoming commune chief was for peace, repeating herself and a call for votes often repeated by the ruling party.
“I just want peace, not war like in Russia, not war like under the Pol Pot regime,” she said.
Peace and development were also the rationale behind Meng Hong’s decision at the poll. The 28-year-old Ta Kdol commune resident said he voted for the CPP’s incumbent commune chief, adding that the chief expanded roads and bridges in the commune. But like Mouyheang, Hong also appreciated the kindness that the commune chief showed his family, saying the chief brought money and rice to their house when his father was suffering from heart issues.
“They’re very caring with the people,” he said.
Two police officers in uniform wearing NEC armbands walked into polling station No. 1665, but they were turned away at first and returned after taking off their jackets. An NEC staff member at the door of the station said they were asked to do that so as not to influence the vote.
11:30 a.m. Kem Sokha Skips Voting, Prince Cannot Vote
Opposition leader Kem Sokha will not vote on Sunday, said a close aide Muth Chantha, because he did not see any good options among the 17 parties contesting Sunday’s ballot.
Kem Sokha was registered at a pagoda in Chak Angre Leu and voted in the 2017 commune election.
Meach Sovannara, another Sokha ally, said if the opposition leader voted then it would signal he had given up on the CNRP and accepted the charges against him.
“If Kem Sokha goes to vote, it will mean that he accepted that the dissolution of the CNRP was legal … and the government might say they are right in imprisoning Kem Sokha,” Sovannara said.
A Funcinpec spokesperson said Prince Norodom Chakravuth could not vote this morning because he wasn’t registered. Nhuon Raden, the spokesperson, said the prince was taking care of the then-ailing Norodom Ranariddh during the registration period.
“And in terms of the process to participate in the registration, he was busy taking care of [Ranariddh’s] health. So there is a shortcoming in the process.”
11:10 a.m. Officials Present at Polling Sites: Licadho
Rights group Licadho is reporting local authorities’ presence at polling stations in nine provinces across the country, in some cases they were seen noting names or number for voters.
VOD also saw a village chief standing at the front gate of the Phnom Penh’s Phsar Doeum Thkov polling center, keeping count of people on a list after they voted this morning. Even residents were curious as to why the village chief was present at the polling center and queried him. The chief responded that he was only keeping records.
10 a.m. CPP Bigwigs Vote
9:30 a.m. Voice of Democracy
Pom Sovann, 60
Sovann voted at the King Father Primary School in Kampong Kandal commune, Kampot. She commended both the parties and the election committee for their work.
“They organized very well,” Sovann said.
She didn’t think her commune had any problems, at least none she said that motivated her vote, but said it was her obligation as a citizen to go to the polls.
Chuon Thida, 30
Traffic stopped Chuon Thida, 30, from reaching the Kandal Provincial Teacher Training Center to see Prime Minister Hun Sen vote. He appreciated that the current Takhmao commune chief had given people rice and soy sauce when they were in need and was voting for the chief to continue in office.
“I have a strong feeling that the CPP is going to win,” he said. Having seen some small party rallies in Phnom Penh, Thida said “the other parties don’t have as many supporters.”
Mao Sonita, 30
Sonita came with her toddler-age daughter and said she was “very excited” to have voted. She also reported no real issues in the commune, but said infrastructure and development were important to her.
“When people have had issues the commune chief resolved them,” she said.
Still, even though Sonita seemed content with the incumbent leadership, she was not willing to say who she voted for. At first, Sonita said it was illegal to disclose such information, before thinking again and correcting herself that it is not.
“I can not tell which party I voted for, because this is a secret for people,” she said. “I worry about security for myself.”
Tuy Sophia, 62
Sophia voted at a school in Kampong Cham’s Chrey Veang commune Sunday morning. She felt that turnout was low in the school compared to 2018, and expressed mixed emotions over the ballot.
“I am happy for now. But after that I might not be happy. In the future, I might ask them for help and they might be difficult. It’s just hard to say,” she said, referring to commune officials.
Battambang Candlelight Candidate Sin Rozeth Votes
Candlelight commune chief candidate Sin Rozeth marched inside Hun Sen Primary School grounds shortly after 8:30 a.m. and cast her ballot in less than 30 seconds. She couldn’t sleep last night, she said, but not because she was nervous.
“I’m excited, because we have been waiting for five years already,” she said. “Now we’re back to participate in this election.”
She gave a Candlelight election monitor a friendly pat on the shoulder and waved hello to a handful of residents as they walked past her and held up their inked fingers. Rozeth planned to wait out the day at home until results arrived starting around 5 p.m.
“I’m happy to see so many people coming to vote and expressing their right,” she said.
NEC Says Polls Proceeding Smoothly, Some Confusion with Polling Locations
National Election Committee spokesperson Sam Sorida said there were “clear skies” across Cambodia’s 23,602 polling stations and expected a high turnout for today’s election.
“Generally, I have observed there are crowds of people coming to vote and that is different from the 2018 election. More than 9.2 million have their names in the voting list, and there will be high turnout for the election,” he said.
He said there were reports of confusion among voters about where their polling stations were and concerns had been reported in Phnom Penh and Battambang. He said election officials were helping people verify where they were allowed to vote.
8:00 a.m. Voice of Democracy
Sokha Mao, 41, a PassApp driver
Mao sat on a bench outside the Ang Primary School polling station in O’Char, where around 100 people dotted the school grounds waiting to vote.
He hasn’t seen much development in the last five years under the current commune chief, he said, with flooded roads taking years to be fixed and commune residents frustrated with “cronyism.”
He declined to share who he plans to vote for. But “I want the commune chief to be closer or the people,” he said.
Chea Vireak, 35
Vireak said this was the first time he saw Prime Minister Hun Sen up close. He was happy to cast his vote today, he said after coming out of a polling station at Takhmao’s teacher training school.
“I knew last mandate he was here, so I thought he would be here but I wasn’t sure,” he said.
Vireak said the Takhmao commune chief had served him well. He wouldn’t share who he was voting for but said it was “the party that stuck with him” for years.
Prime Minister Hun Sen Votes With First Lady
Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany arrived at a polling station just before 7:15 a.m. Both cast their ballots and did not speak to the media or other voters at the polling center.
A crowd of photographers and journalists were awaiting the arrival of the prime minister — who did not campaign this election — and swarmed to get photos and videos of him voting.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. across Cambodia giving more than 9 million registered voters the chance to vote for their preferred political party and elect 1,652 commune chiefs.
Voters have been seen trickling into polling centers in Phnom Penh and Battambang. Around 150 voters were seen at the Hun Sen Primary School in O’Char, Battambang, where Candlelight candidate Sin Rozeth is running for the chief position after lo
sing her seat when her party was dissolved in 2017.
VOD reporters have fanned out across the country and will send live updates of voting, counting and results from the provinces and Phnom Penh. We will also follow senior leaders heading to polling stations to cast their ballot.
After 3 p.m., when polling ends, VOD will start tallying preliminary results coming in from the National Election Committee to give you an indication of how commune councils will look across the country.
Reporting by Fiona Kelliher, Phin Rathana, Roun Ry, Danielle Keeton-Olsen, Andrew Haffner, Mengkroy Punlok, Mech Dara