While CPP and Funcinpec officials called Sunday’s Senate election a step forward for democracy, opposition leader Sam Rainsy issued a statement describing the vote as the echo of the commune election’s so-called “night of the barking dogs.”
Sam Rainsy alleged that the results of the Senate election reflected not the will of the people, but the continuing impact of vote buying and intimidation that he said occurred in advance of the February 2002 commune council elections.
“The night of the barking dogs” refers to the ruckus made by domestic pets when politicians are said to make stealthy visits to remote villages on election eve, offering gifts to voters.
“The 2006 senate election results are misleading, with the CPP finally securing 45 senatorial seats out of 61 (74 percent), while the opposition Sam Rainsy Party got only 2 seats (3 percent) even though it collected 22 percent of the popular vote in 2003,” Sam Rainsy wrote in a statement received Monday, referring to the national election of July 2003.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the ruling party’s latest victory was even stronger than expected, thanks to the CPP’s fiercely loyal supporters.
“We have strengthened our members long ago, so that they cannot be changed,” he said. “I am proud with the result, but Prime Minister Hun Sen told us not to be proud…but to try to serve the people.”
Cheam Yeap said the vote would provide a mandate for CPP senators to address the needs of their constituencies.
“The Senate cannot just approve what the National Assembly approves,” he added.
Funcinpec spokesman Chea Chanboribo said the royalist party, too, is satisfied with the unofficial returns, and said they showed that Funcinpec members who had defected to the opposition are now returning to the fold.
“We have succeeded in bringing back votes from Sam Rainsy Party that we lost in 2003,” he said. “Defectors cannot stay with hot water.”
But opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said opposition members are standing by the party, though he added that they are unsettled by the current climate of fear.
He called the election a “wakeup call” for the party, which he said needs to work with its supporters to calm their fears, particularly following the Dec 22 defamation conviction in absentia of party leader Sam Rainsy.
“The number of commune councilors that we have around the country that are afraid to vote for their party is only 15 percent, and that is not bad compared to what we have been through,” Son Chhay said.
But the few complaints so far lodged to the National Election Committee are related to flawed ballots, not intimidation.
So far, two complaints were reported to provincial election committees—one in Kompong
Chhnang province and one in Battambang province—by Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party members whose ballots were declared void, NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said.