According to preliminary Senate election results released by the National Election Committee on Thursday, the ruling CPP has won 45 seats, Funcinpec earned 10 and Sam Rainsy Party garnered just two.
While Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh praised the election, Sam Rainsy Party officials made allegations of vote-buying and reiterated that the elections were unimportant as the Senate is a mere “elephants’ graveyard.”
But neither of two complaints made to provincial election committees were appealed to the NEC, and parties have only 72 hours to contest the election results, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said Thursday.
Hun Sen thanked authorities for organizing a “peaceful, fair [and] just” election.
“This is vital for our political stability,” the prime minister said in Svay Rieng province on Wednesday. “The communes have their representatives in the Senate, so the decentralization process can be speeded.”
Following Prince Ranariddh’s naming of the Senate’s top officials, despite the fact that the power to elect the Senate president and deputies rests with the senators, observers noted that the Senate remains unlikely to assume power or effect decentralization.
“Cambodia’s political structure is very heavy under the control of the political party leaders,” Committee for Free and Fair Elections Director Koul Panha said.
“The Senate is not in a position to give power to the senators, because the control remains with the political party leaders.”
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay further alleged that the Senate was designed, at its inception, to be powerless, and would remain so.
“Because of the power-sharing crisis, we had the creation of this so-called elephants’ graveyard, where we put these old, high-ranking officials, to have a relaxing time and to do as little as possible,” Son Chhay said.
“Because of the way we elect the Senate, it can have no power,” he warned.
But Prince Ranariddh, in a glowing statement dated Tuesday, wrote that the Senate election—in which Funcinpec lost 11 of its 21 Senate seats—was a positive step for Funcinpec, laying the groundwork for success in upcoming commune council and general elections.
“I would like to express profound thanks to members of the Sam Rainsy Party, who were former members of Funcinpec party, who supported the former party in the Senate election,” Prince Ranariddh wrote.
Sam Rainsy Party Acting President Kong Korm said that the more than 200 opposition votes lost in the election mattered little, “because the Senate is not important.”
Son Chhay alleged that the losses were in part due to fears among party members following the Dec 22 court conviction of Sam Rainsy and partly due to the buying of votes.
“There is no doubt about it. I heard some reports…that some Funcinpec members have met our commune council members and bribed them,” Son Chhay said.
“But if we complain to the NEC, there is no result anyway, there is no proper investigation.”
Acting opposition Secretary-General Meng Ritha said that some party members were offered from $300 to $1,200 to vote for other parties.
Bin San, commune chief in Meanchey district’s Boeung Tumpun commune, said he had been approached with such an offer. Another opposition commune councilor from Chamkar Mon district, who declined to be named, admitted that he had accepted a $350 bribe, but had voted for the Sam Rainsy Party anyway.
Funcinpec spokesman Chea Chanboribo denied any vote buying or other rewards to lure voters.
“[The voters] only come back. They were Funcinpec,” he said.
Uk Phourik, president of the Khmer Democratic Party, which has only one commune councilor, expressed joy that his party had drawn a total of 12 votes.
“This is our success. People understood that I do the right thing. They like my political platform,” Uk Phourik said.
(By Yun Samean, Pin Sisovann and Samantha Melamed)