PHNOM PENH: The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen swept to a landslide victory in senate elections on Sunday (Feb 25).
Initial results from the National Election Committee (NEC) showed that the CPP took 11,202 votes from a turnout of 11,670 voters.
Funcinpec received 276 votes, Khmer National United Party 182 votes and Cambodia Youth Party won 3 votes.
Sok Eysan, CPP’s spokesman, welcomed the result, saying the elections were held in a “free and fair” manner in line with democracy.
“Based on the NEC’s figure, we believe that we got an excellent result with around 56 or 57 seats,” he said. “It is an expression of people’s will."
Rights groups and members of the opposing Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have called the vote a "sham" and "undemocratic" after almost half of the councillors were stripped of their right to vote after the CNRP was dissolved by a court last November at the government's request.
The dissolution of the CNRP was preceded by the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, last year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with US help, an accusation both the United States and Kem Sokha have rejected.
The CNRP condemned the vote on Sunday, saying its 5,062 commune councillors and lawmakers had been stripped of their voting rights.
Cambodia’s senate is composed of 62 seats, with elections held every six years. Fifty-eight of the senate seats are elected by 123 national assembly members, and 11,572 commune councillors at 33 polling stations from across the country.
King Norodom Sihamoni nominates two members, and the National Assembly nominates two. By constitutional law, president of the senate play a role as the head of state to sign the bills when the king is abroad.
Hang Puthea, spokesman for the NEC, said the election went smoothly.
“There was no violence, no complaints and no threats at all. It went smoothly,” he said. “Based on this result, CPP gained 58 seats.”
“NOTHING DEMOCRATIC ABOUT THIS”
Mao Monivann, a former CNRP lawmaker, said he did not accept this senate election result and that this election was not in line with democracy because CNRP’s National Assembly seats and its councillor seats were taken away and distributed among other parties that were not elected.
“There is nothing democratic about this,” he said. “They are doing it just for fun”
In the Jun 4 commune election last year, CPP gained 1,156 out of a total 1,646 communes and also won 6, 503 of the 11,572 council seats up for the grabs while CNRP picked up 489 communes along with 5,007 commune seats.
The CNRP was thus seen as the main opponent against Hun Sen’s ruling CPP in July 2018 general election.
On Feb 23, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) warned that the senate election in Cambodia cannot be considered a legitimate democratic exercise, given the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“This election is a sham,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, who is a member of parliament from Malaysia.
“Having amended a long list of laws in an effort to consolidated his power, Hun Sen has changed the rules of the fame to such an extent that it is impossible for the senate to be a true representation of the will of the Cambodian people,”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay echoed this, adding that the election was completely meaningless.
“This election is meaningless because the biggest opposition was dissolved – which is against the principal of democracy. We have moved away from the line of democracy that was set in the constitution and the 1991 Peace Accord.”
However, Hang Puthea said the criticism and rejection is not new, saying that it was “just an opinion” in a democratic society.
“It is a message from politician. NEC fulfilled its duty and followed the law.”
ONE PARTY RULE
The CPP has gone from strength to strength after it finished second in the 1993 general election, when a Norodom Ranariddh-led Funcinpec won the most seats in a hung parliament.
Hun Sen marked his 33 years last month and has repeatedly said he will be prime minister for another 10 years.
However, observers say Sunday’s senate result is nothing strange and it will give the absolute power to the ruling party.
“There is nothing surprising,” said Korn Savang, monitoring coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“Almost 90 per cent of councillors belong to the ruling party. If the ruling party did not get 100 per cent of seats that would be strange.”
NEC’s Hang Puthea said the law allowed all parties to compete in the election. But added: “However, when one party was charged of espionage, NEC cannot then register that party.”
Mao Monivann denied all charges against his party and against CNRP’s president Kem Sokha, saying the charge had no legal basis.
“The ruling party will lose to the CNRP if they were allowed to compete on an equal footing,” he said.
The CPP’s Sok Eysan meanwhile, said that although single-party rule will make it easier to govern, lawmakers still need to follow the law and do things in a democratic fashion.
“If the CPP takes control of all the national establishments, it will make everything go smoothly,” he said.
“But we won’t leave out the rule of law. When we make laws, or make any amendment to the laws, we have to base them on the principal of existing laws and procedures.”
However, political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the dissolution of the CNRP has already delegitimised Cambodia’s institutions – including the national assembly and the senate.
“When there is no respect for the constitution and other laws, it becomes dictatorship.”