Senate polls open across country as NEC head defends election legitimacy

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his ballot in this morning's Senate elections, where his party is expected to sweep the upper house. Tep Sony

A four-way contest to capture seats in Cambodia’s Senate kicked off this morning, with commune councillors and National Assembly members across the country voting in what is expected to be a clean sweep at the polls for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

The election for Cambodia's upper house comes three months after the country’s most credible opposition group, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved by the Supreme Court for allegedly plotting a "revolution" following the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha in September.

Councillors lined up this morning outside polling booths, occasionally making way for sick and elderly commune officials – one of whom was brought in an ambulance – to cast their ballot for one of four parties contesting the elections: the Khmer National United Party, Funcinpec, Cambodian Youth Party and the CPP.

Prime Minister Hun Sen voted in his constituency of Kandal this morning, while National Assembly president Heng Samrin went to Kampong Cham to place his ballot. The 62-member Senate will see 58 members selected during today's election, with two more appointed by King Norodom Sihamoni and two voted in by parliament.

National Election Committee Chairman Sik Bun Hok inspected voting at a Phnom Penh polling centre, saying balloting was so far going smoothly across the country, with no reports of irregularities.

He strongly defended the poll against concerns raised by foreign governments and observers over the legitimacy of the elections, saying Japan and China were continuing their support for Cambodian elections.

“I already said the two important things for an election is it needs to be independent and neutral to ensure it will be free, fair and just,” he said. “This election is based on the law created by the National Assembly and not from the United States or the European Union.”

The Cambodia National Rescue Party, which last year saw all its council and parliamentary seats distributed among other parties, released a statement yesterday calling on the United Nations and international community to label today’s ballot as “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic”.

“We are alarmed by the prospects for further destabilisation of the country and the region as the people of Cambodia will not accept a full dictatorship and one-party rule,” the statement reads.

Sok Nary, the ruling party’s first deputy chief from Chroy Changvar commune, said the absence of the CNRP and any strong opponent for these elections has become the new “normal”.

“I wanted the CNRP to join the election to show democracy in our country. I regret that the CNRP was dissolved,” she said, adding that she was confident the CPP will get a majority in the Senate.