Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) claimed victory in Sunday’s national election, but saw its majority severely diminished, ceding 22 National Assembly seats to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the party’s first major setback since the U.N.-backed election in 1993.
According to unofficial results released by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith on his Facebook page Sunday evening, the CPP won 68 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, down from the 90 seats it won in 2008.
The CNRP won 55 seats, up from the combined 29 seats that were won, prior to their merger, by the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party in the last election.
Tep Nytha, secretary-general for the National Election Committee (NEC), declined to either confirm or deny the results released by Mr. Kanharith, and said that official nationwide results would not be available until today.
However, Mr. Kanharith’s preliminary figures were confirmed by Council of Minister’s spokesman Phay Siphan.
“That’s what I heard. That’s correct,” Mr. Siphan said of the results last night.
Preliminary estimates put voter turnout Sunday at about 69 percent, which would make it the lowest of any election in the past 20 years, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel).
Participation in the 2008 election was about 75 percent.
The preliminary results mark a sharp downturn in popularity for the long-ruling CPP, which has seen its support among Cambodia’s electorate steadily increase in each successive election since it won 51 seats and finished second in the 1993 election. And while the CPP will still be able to form a government without requiring a coalition with the CNRP, Mr. Hun Sen’s party will no longer be able to unilaterally change the Constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority of votes in Parliament.
In 2006, a constitutional amendment was passed that allowed parties to form a government around a simple majority of 50 percent of seats plus one. Prior to that change, a two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats were required to form a government.
Sunday’s result also means that the royalist Funcinpec party, which held two seats going into the election, will have no representation in Parliament, a steep fall since it won the 1993 election with 58 seats.
Prior to the preliminary results released by Mr. Kanharith, CNRP president Sam Rainsy held a press conference declaring that the election, regardless of the outcome, was a triumph for the Cambodian people.
“This has been an historic day in Cambodia. A great number of people have come out to express their will and democracy seems to be moving forward,” he said.
“The country seems to be more mature, and we celebrate the victory of the whole country with this advance of democracy,” he said.
Neither the CPP nor CNRP commented Sunday on the results of the election.
A provincial rundown of election results, which were not confirmed by the NEC, was posted to the CPP’s official website along with that of the National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC), which is headed by Mr. Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet. Those results put the turnout Sunday at 67 percent of eligible voters.
According to figures posted on the NCTC website, the CPP won some 49.8 percent of total votes Sunday while the CNRP won 45.2 percent of the votes.
Among provinces with more than one seat, the CPP won the majority of seats in seven provinces, the CNRP won four and the two parties split seats evenly in five other provinces. The CPP won the majority of votes in all one-seat provinces.
The CNRP announced before the official election campaign began on June 26 that it would only focus its campaign resources on the 15 provinces with three or more seats. The opposition’s biggest victories came in the country’s four largest constituencies: Phnom Penh municipality, Kompong Cham, Kandal and Prey Veng provinces.
In Phnom Penh, the CNRP won seven out of 12 seats, a reversal of 2008, when the CPP won seven seats. In Kompong Cham, the country’s most populous province, the CNRP won 10 out of 18 seats, taking three seats from the ruling party along with one seat from the Norodom Ranariddh Party. In Prey Veng and Kandal provinces, the CNRP beat the CPP by one seat, winning six out of 11 seats in each constituency.
The CPP beat the CNRP in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kratie, Pursat, Siem Reap and Svay Rieng provinces, which together account for 32 National Assembly seats.
The surprise spike in the number of seats held by the CNRP came despite a litany of complaints by the opposition party over the NEC’s failure to conduct a fair election.
According to Mr. Panha at Comfrel, the most common complaint from voters was that their name did not appear on official voter lists, a situation that was forewarned by numerous surveys, including one conducted by the NEC, that showed that no less than 10 percent of the country’s electorate risked being disenfranchised because their names did not appear on voter roles.
In an audit released in early April, Comfrel estimated that some 1.25 million voters could lose their right to vote Sunday because 13.5 percent of registered voters could not find their names on the voter list.
“The main complaints…were people having difficulty finding their names. It happened in many places, especially in the large constituencies,” said Mr. Panha, adding that some voters were frustrated that their names had already been used by somebody else to vote when they arrived at polling stations.
The problem reached a boiling point when violence broke out at a ballot station in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district as voters complained they could not find their names on the NEC’s voter list. Two military police cars outside the pagoda were turned upside down and set on fire. The violence was eventually quelled after one man, accused of being Vietnamese, was attacked by an angry mob.
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the CNRP, said that the opposition party would wait until comprehensive results have been released by the NEC before commenting.
“We are collecting the results from everywhere throughout the country and information regarding irregularities from all over the country,” he said, adding that the unofficial results released by the CPP would signify “a gain for the nation, for Cambodian people and a gain for the whole country.”
However, upon casting his vote in his constituency of Kompong Cham province, CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said that his party would accept nothing less than victory in the national ballot, which the opposition has said would be massively flawed due to the failure of the NEC to meet international standards of free and fair elections.
“If the CNRP loses this election, we will not accept the results, and we will ask the international community to intervene,” Mr. Sokha told reporters.
Surya Subedi, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, said in the lead-up to the election that the government had yet to implement a number of reforms that would ensure legitimacy of its elections.
Areas where reform is still needed, according to Mr. Subedi’s report, which has been backed by the U.S., European Union and other international donors, included the ruling party’s continued domination of the media, the lack of impartiality of the NEC and use of state resources in campaigning for the CPP.
(Colin Meyn, Lauren Crothers, Zsombor Peter, Khuon Narim, Aun Pheap, Phorn Bopha, Kate Bartlett and Simon Lewis)
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Phnom Penh has 11 seats in the National Assembly.
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