More than 88,000 candidates will be vying for the 11,572 seats up for grabs in the June 4 commune elections, the National Election Committee (NEC) announced on Monday, following a three-day registration window that closed on Sunday.
The ruling CPP and its main challenger, the CNRP, both registered one primary candidate and one reserve for every seat in the 1,646 communes that make up the country. The royalist Funcinpec party came a distant third, fielding candidates in 804 communes.
Though new to commune elections, the CNRP will pose the toughest challenge to the ruling party, which won a commanding 72 percent of the seats five years ago and secured a disproportionately high 97 percent of the commune chief posts.
The Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party, which merged to form the CNRP just ahead of the 2013 national elections, won a combined 26 percent of the commune seats in 2012, but secured only 2 percent of the commune chief spots.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said on Monday that the party expected to significantly improve on the combined results of five years ago given the CNRP’s success in the 2013 national election—when it came close to winning half the votes—and take a majority of the commune seats this time around.
“Based on the results of 2013, and from 2013 to 2017, we have seen that people want reform and want to change leaders,” Mr. Sovann said.
The registration process had some setbacks for the CNRP. Mr. Sovann said some of its candidates faced threats ahead of the registration window aimed at discouraging them from running. He declined to elaborate because the party was still investigating. Some commune councilors also expressed their displeasure at being ranked lower on the candidate list by burning CNRP signs.
Meanwhile, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said his party was “optimistic” about making gains this year.
The CNRP turned its calls for change into a powerful rallying cry during the last national elections, nearly sweeping the long-ruling CPP from power. For its part, the CPP regularly warns voters that a change in the ruling party would cause nothing short of a catastrophe. Just last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 32 years, used the occasion of a high school inauguration to insist that putting any other party in power would plunge Cambodia back into civil war.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said on Monday that the official campaigning period would run from May 20 to June 2, during which time each party would be allowed to organize a march no more than twice in each commune.
He said the candidate registration had gone off without a hitch, with 12 parties—two more than five years ago—fielding a total of 88,216 contenders.
The CNRP did, however, have to contend with a few disgruntled commune councilors in Oddar Meanchey province over the weekend.
Yem Samuth, who heads the party’s executive committee in Anlong Veng district, said three CNRP signs in three separate communes had been burned down on Saturday and Sunday.
He blamed three CNRP councilors, one in each commune, who were upset with the party for moving them from the top of the ballot, where they sat in 2012, to the third spot. That means they have little to no chance of becoming commune chief even if the CNRP takes the commune.
Mr. Samuth, who said the CNRP demoted the councilors because of their poor performance over the past five years, said they would not be filing complaints with local authorities about the sign burning as it was a minor matter that could be dealt with internally.
The three commune officials could not be reached.