High Turnout

By the time Cambodia’s fourth commune elections came to a close at 3 p.m. on Sunday, 6,743,329 of the country’s citizens had come out to cast their votes, according to the National Election Committee (NEC).

That’s the highest total ever recorded in a Cambodian election, surpassing the 2013 national vote by around 7,000 and the 2012 local ballot by more than 1.7 million.

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Khan Sothea at a polling station in Chak Angre Loeu commune in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

“I have personally observed that the rate of participation in democracy for our people throughout the country is very high this time,” NEC Chairman Sik Bunhok said at a news conference.

At a primary school in Chak Angre Loeu commune in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, Taing Siv, 36, said he thought the polling station was “a little bit crowded” compared to previous elections, while 31-year-old Keo Seila mused that people seemed more enthusiastic.

“I think this mandate, it is active, and a lot of people came to vote in the commune elections,” Mr. Seila said. “It is a bit different” to the 2012 commune elections, he added.

Long Navy, 37, said she believed citizens had a better comprehension of the power of their democratic rights this time around.

“Based on what I saw, I think people have more understanding,” she said.

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Voters wait in line at a polling station in Chak Angre Loeu commune in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district yesterday (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily).

At a high school in Chamkar Mon district, 60-year-old Top Tith, a CPP election observer, said voters had queued up before polls opened at 7 a.m., and 80 percent of the voters registered at his station had voted before noon.

“They understand that voting gives progress to the next day,” he said.

The NEC put the turnout at 85.7 percent of registered voters, which, on the surface, greatly outpaces the 2013 election’s 69.6 percent and 2012’s 65 percent. However, previous voter lists were inflated with duplicate and “ghost” names, including more registered voters than the sum total of Cambodians eligible to vote, making the comparisons by percentage faulty.

After the NEC went through major reforms at the behest of the opposition in 2014, a new digitized registration system was launched last year and a new national voter list was given the thumbs-up by independent election monitors. Eligible voters during this period had increased by nearly 1 million over the 2012 commune elections.

(Additional reporting by Phan Soumy)

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