Get the Vote Out, Kampuchea

The first weekend in June, commune elections were held across the nation as the rallying, parading, badgering, bribing, and flag-waving came to a head, and finally to a close. I was not sorry to see it go. It was all a bit much: Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) paying for the most renown (and expensive) comedians to dance around in clown wigs while wearing CPP tees, and CPP supporters parading around the killing fields with their banners– a sad, ironic scene. (Remember, Hun Sen was Khmer Rouge, though he didn’t kill nobody, of course.)

Click the link below to see photos and the rest of the post.

In the end, the CPP won over 72% of Cambodia’s 11,459 commune council seats. “Opposition” Sam Rainsy Party won about 19%, Human Rights Party 7%. Here are the results in Khmer.

Possibly as a result of their poor performance, the HR and SR parties are currently talking of combining.

According to Global Voices, female representation was up 4% from last year, to 25% of total seats– still abysmal considering that more than half of Cambodia’s population is female.

A lot of people noted that this time around was better than last: less obvious corruption, less death threats, etc. From what I have seen and heard, this is not necessarily because things are improving; it is because such measures are less necessary for CPP to ensure a win. The democratic spirit in Cambodia has all but gasped its last gasp.

That is not to say that everyone has resigned themselves to CPP domination for eternity, however; even when they admit it may be hopeless, I have talked to some people who got the vote out for other parties– or even negated their ballots when their party of choice did not appear on it, an demonstration of democratic expression. (They don’t have write-ins here.)

During the preceding week and the day of, I also saw many people asking each other if they were voting, and some individuals encouraging those who seemed apathetic. “Take advantage of your civic rights!” They would say.

Those who did vote were rather conspicuous with their purple fingers, which had been dipped in fingerprint ink to mark their ballots.

The elections were held mainly at local schools.

The colour of the vote!

The front of the middle school, decorated for the elections.

It did not feel like “free and fair” elections in the least, I should add. Everywhere one looked for the entire month beforehand and also during the elections, themselves, there were reminders of who is Boss: police are generally associated with the CPP, and they were posted outside of the election locations, probably to…monitor; CPP posters, signs, flyers, and banners could be found mounted and pasted in every corner of Phnom Penh, but aside from a few Sam Rainsy flyers, no other parties seemed to have a presence; a radio-ban silenced all political stations (except for those supporting the CPP) during the entire weekend, by order of the government.

On the way to and from the provinces, taxis, buses, and every other form of transportation were completely full-up. Even if people weren’t voting, they took advantage of the four-day weekend to visit home.

Here are a few pix of this trip to Prey Chor, my Cambodian “hometown”.

My cousin Pisey in the cozy taxi.

A big wooden toad they hauled down from Ratanakkiri… Probably made of rare rainforest timber.

Below they are preparing stuffs for the mushroom farm…


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