CNRP Cites Poll, Rallies as Reasons for Election Optimism

A poll distributed to major political parties earlier this year emboldened opposition leader Kem Sokha to predict that the CNRP would win 60 percent of the vote in Sunday’s commune elections, a party spokesman has revealed.

—Commune Election 2017—

Conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S.-funded democracy support group that has operated in Cambodia since 1992, the poll did not directly address politics. Instead, respondents were asked whether they felt the country was moving in the right or wrong direction.

cam photo polling JUMP
CNRP President Kem Sokha at a campaign rally in Stung Treng City yesterday, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

Yet CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the March poll’s result was a factor in the opposition’s optimism heading into Sunday’s ballot.

“You can see that from 2013 to now, a lot of injustice occurred in the society, and more and more problems [are] caused by the CPP,” Mr. Sovann said.

The poll was distributed to political parties earlier this year, and its findings were confirmed by CNRP leaders as well as Sam Inn, secretary-general of the Grassroots Democracy Party.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said neither he nor the CPP leadership had seen the poll.

NDI country director John Cavanaugh said in an email on Monday that the survey was used to inform NDI’s consultations with major political parties and the NEC last month and this month.

It was “designed to assist parties develop policies and campaign messages which are responsive to citizen concerns, but is not intended for public distribution at this time,” he said.

The NDI provides technical assistance to the country’s ruling and opposition parties, and was one of a handful of NGOs recently accused of fomenting “color revolution” by CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun.

While the poll’s results were not released publicly, the opposition is using its findings to make sweeping promises about success in Sunday’s vote.

Mr. Sovann, the CNRP spokesman, attributed Mr. Sokha’s prediction that the opposition would win 60 percent of the vote in-part to the survey, saying the findings point toward the failures of the ruling party.

The CPP’s Mr. Eysan countered on Tuesday that past election results prove the country is moving in the right direction.

“If we are moving in the wrong direction and implementing policy incorrectly, people would not have supported us to lead the country for many mandates,” Mr. Eysan said. “I think that this survey will not impact voters’ mindsets.”

Mr. Sokha’s forecast far outstrips the opposition’s showing during the 2012 commune elections, when the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party won a combined 30 percent of votes cast. The two parties merged later that year to form the CNRP.

In the July 2013 national elections—the first and only time the united opposition has been on the ballot—the CNRP captured 44.5 percent of the vote. At the time, that result was considered a victory of sorts for an opposition that had struggled in previous elections.

Political analyst Cham Bunthet said on Monday he was skeptical of Mr. Sokha’s suggestion that the opposition could add 15 percent to its 2013 total, especially during local elections that tend to favor the ruling party.

“I would not say they could reach up to 60 percent,” said Mr. Bunthet, who also serves as an adviser to the Grassroots Democracy Party. “Maybe 50-50 or below that, that would be the number I would suggest.”

Mr. Bunthet said migrants living abroad, who tend to support the opposition, wouldn’t come back to vote in local elections, instead waiting for next year’s larger prize of national elections. “So they would just say, ‘Whoever leads the commune, it doesn’t matter. I will vote in 2018.’”

Sebastian Strangio, a journalist and author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” said Mr. Sokha’s prediction “show[s] an incredible confidence that in a free and fair vote, the CNRP would win a majority, and there’s certainly good reason to expect that the party will poll well.”

Mr. Strangio added that while repeated promises of victory followed by defeats might hurt the opposition, “since this is Sokha’s first bite at the cherry as CNRP leader, I think he has everything to gain from projecting confidence in his party’s victory.”

Senior CNRP lawmakers echoed Mr. Sokha’s predictions of a sweeping victory. Mr. Sovann said the CNRP has seen at least a tenfold increase of support at its rallies and events held in Phnom Penh and the countryside compared to 2012.

“It’s more and more people, much more people participate in the campaign,” he said, citing a parade in the capital on Sunday in which tens of thousands participated.

Senior opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua also said that the opposition’s level of support was higher than she’d seen in previous elections.

“It’s incredible. After 2013, and all the heated political situation, we were worried that the crowd—the supporters and the youth—would be discouraged,” Ms. Sochua said. “But to the contrary, it seems that they have maintained…their belief that only the CNRP could find the solution, a national solution.”

Currently, 97 percent of commune chief spots are in the ruling party’s hands following the CPP’s dominant performance in 2012, when it won about 60 percent of votes nationwide.

If the CNRP did live up to Mr. Sokha’s hopes and matched the CPP’s 2012 performance, the opposition’s share of commune chief spots would likely be between 70 percent to 85 percent—less than the CPP’s 2012 share due to an electoral method that favors larger parties and disadvantaged the split opposition five years ago.

The ruling party’s Mr. Eysan has consistently predicted victory for the ruling party, saying that people will vote for “politicians who have achievements and qualifications,” and the party that “has done the most for the country and the people.” He doubled down on his prediction on Tuesday.

“We are 100% sure that we will get victory in this election,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Dickison)

—Publishing the Poll Results—

On advice of legal counsel, the Daily is not publishing the survey’s findings. Article 72 of Cambodia’s election law states, “All surveys and dissemination of the survey findings related to the election shall come to an end 7 (seven) days before the polling day.” It defines an election survey as “the use of selected sample or/and questionnaires to gather opinions of the citizens about the election.”

Contacted on Monday, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said publishing a poll about the general direction the country was moving in—as the NDI survey does—would not violate the law, as the survey didn’t pertain directly to the election. “If the survey is not election-related, it’s a separate issue so it’s fine for [publishing],” he said, adding, “What the NEC has banned is just surveys that state this or that party will win or lose the election.”

But asked yesterday specifically about the NDI poll regarding the direction of the country, Mr. Puthea said that after speaking with representatives from NDI, he felt its dissemination would affect the integrity of Sunday’s vote. “This question affects the election process,” he said.,

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