After a hiatus of one year I now have a little more time as my business does not require my presence as much as before thanks to the invaluable help from my step-children. I will again post comments on the situation in Cambodia and Sihanoukville in particular so readers abroad who still come across this blog in a good number can find out a few things as observed by a foreigner. As I say in the description in right side panel this blog is unbiased.
Now to the subject above. This past weekend local or commune (Sangkat) elections were held. Each province is subdivided into communes for a total of 1645 for all of Cambodia, of which the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 1163 and the Cambodian Rescue Party (CNRP) garnered 482. The voter turnout was remarkable with nearly 90% or almost 7 million. The popular vote was 48% for the CPP and 46% for the CNRP. All results are still unofficial so please don't hold me to 100% accuracy.
There seems to be a discrepancy in the shares won vis-a-vis the popular vote but one has to understand that the communes are ruled by the commune chiefs who are elected directly. Depending on the size population of the commune a certain number of councilors is elected but the real power lies with the chief. The commune chief's direct mandate explains the discrepancy between the popular vote and the number of communes won by a party. People vote for persons and personalities in the commune elections, not for parties.
The communes do not collect any taxes directly but are allocated funds by the Finance Ministry. By what method is not quite clear. It is understood that the commune chiefs put in requests for infrastructure projects which are then approved (or not). Since transparency is not very pronounced in Cambodian politics, hard figures are hard to come by. However, the chief's position is important and vital to the community.
In order to understand this one must also look at the structure of the administration. There are 24 provinces (khaet), divided into districts (srok), then into communes (khum), and finally into villages (phum). The communes are called differently in Phnom Penh (khan), and the communes Sangkat. But as far as I know people in the provinces call their communes Sangkat too, only in official documents are the a. m. designations used.
One also needs to understand that governors and district chiefs are appointed by the Interior Ministry, or the governor respectively, which are, of course, firmly in the hands of the CPP. This system ensures the control of the finances stays with the governing party and anybody requesting funds better be a member of the same party.
What is noteworthy in this election is first the high voter turnout, that the opposition party increased their number of commune chiefs from 40 in 2012 to 482 this year; and secondly, according to neutral election monitors the close results in the popular vote. The CPP claims 51% whereas independent sources put it at 48% vs. the 46% for the opposition.
The Prime Minister had warned repeatedly during the campaign that a victory for the opposition would lead directly to civil war. Clearly those scare tactics did not work. It might impress the older generation that still has memories of the time before 1989 but the younger generation does not even know a whole lot about that part of Cambodia's history. After all more than 60% of the population is under 30.
Another surprising facet is the fact that the former leader of the opposition who has been banished into exile did not have any obvious impact, e. g. that the opposition would be weakened by a virtual leaderless party. From the results one might deduce that his role is now perceived as unimportant, possibly redundant as a driving force. It seems that the new president of the party Kem Sokha finally came out into his own. As it happens Sam Rainsy did not have much to offer other than blaming everything on the Vietnamese neighbor anyway.
If this trend continues chances are that the opposition will win in 2018 or at least come very close to it. Since the scare tactics obviously don't work the ruling CPP better come up with a few arguments in that campaign. A firm commitment to stamping out corruption, the introduction of a free health care system for the poor, an affordable health insurance for everyone, a viable retirement plan will resonate much more with the electorate than incessantly harping on having brought peace (which they didn't, the U. N. did), relative prosperity, and stability. Most of the accomplishments came about with foreign aid and loans and know-how rather than through their own initiative anyway. Let's see whether this was a wake-up call for the CPP.