The ruling CPP may have been caught by surprise when it lost 22 National Assembly seats to the opposition CNRP in July’s national election, but it is getting an early start on shoring up support for district and city councilor elections scheduled for May.
About 570 CPP commune councilors from across Phnom Penh on Monday gathered at the CPP’s headquarters on Norodom Boulevard to take part in a mock election for district and city councilors in preparation for the real poll, which is expected to be dominated by the ruling party.
“We voted to survey the nominations for candidates who will stand for the city and provincial council,” said Sam Phon, the CPP chief of Niroth commune in Stung Meanchey district.
The commune councilors who attended the trial run were asked to write their choices for district and city councilors on a mock ballot and drop it into a ballot box, all under the watchful eye of senior party leaders.
Mr. Phon added that the results of the poll were not binding, and the CPP would still make the official nomination of the council election candidates sometime before May’s election.
The commune councilors who took part in the mock vote were also addressed at the event by Sim Ka, a CPP senator and senior figure in the ruling party hierarchy, and Deputy Prime Minister and former finance minister Keat Chhon, according to a report in Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper.
Mr. Ka told the participants that their very survival, not just party positions, were on the line in May.
“[The CNRP] doesn’t think that it’s enough to win and take power, but they have ambitions to destroy us, to uproot the CPP as well as all members and individuals in the party after they take over power,” Rasmei Kampuchea reported Mr. Ka as saying.
“Thus, we have to remain united and continue cooperating to protect our achievement, including our lives and the lives of our children,” Mr. Ka said according to the report.
Mr. Ka also told the CPP commune councilors not to schedule any wedding parties for their children on election day, according to the Rasmei Kampuchea report.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said Thursday that the CPP can no longer assume election support, even among their own local party leaders, which is why they needed a mock ballot.
“I think the CPP cannot afford to be as relaxed as they used to be, since the result of the July election really hit them so hard,” he said.
Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the CPP was taking a more hands-on approach to electoral politics after its humbling at the national election.
“If the result from the previous election strayed from what they wanted, the politicians must find a new strategy for success,” Mr. Puthea said. “I think the [pre-election survey] is to try to conduct research to see who supports [the ruling party] and who doesn’t.”
However, Seng Saran, CPP chief of Toek La’ak II commune in Tuol Kok district, said that Monday’s meeting was perfectly normal.
“This is the implementation of democracy,” Mr. Saran said. “If the candidates nominated are good, they will rank at the top.”
Assuming that commune councilors vote along party lines for their district and city council leaders, the CPP is set to win 155 of the 216 district council positions across Phnom Penh. The remaining 61 seats would go to the CNRP on the back of votes from commune councilors from the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party.
District councilors serve a largely administrative role and are charged with implementing five-year development plans in their constituencies.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)