Cambodian PM's election sweep slammed as not free or fair

Phnom Penh (AFP) –


Cambodia's flawed elections left the ruling party led by strongman Hun Sen eying a near clean sweep of parliament on Monday, after what the banned opposition dismissed as a hollow victory.

Sunday's vote has cemented Hun Sen's three-decade reign, but observers say that questions of legitimacy will haunt the wily political survivor as frustration sets in over lack of change.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) expects to amass a minimum of 115 out of 125 national assembly positions -- or more than 90 percent of those up for grabs -- spokesman Sok Eysan told AFP on Monday.

"The overwhelming support of the Cambodian people gave? Hun Sen another chance to continue his historical mission," he said.

Some 8.3 million people registered to cast their votes in Cambodia's sixth general election since United Nations-sponsored polls were held in 1993 after decades of conflict.

But Sunday's vote lacked any serious contenders after Hun Sen backed a crackdown on the opposition last year that saw authorities arrest one of its leaders and the Supreme Court dissolve the party.

It also was virtually devoid of prominent local and international election monitors, who withdrew from the discredited process.

Hun Sen, who came to power in 1985 in a country still plagued by civil war, moved against all forms of dissent in the run-up to the poll, pressuring civil society, independent media and political opponents.

Many western governments, who also pulled support from the vote, criticised it for lacking credibility and slammed the outcome.

The White House said it was "neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people."

The CPP has won every election since 1998, but a culture of impunity and corruption inspired more than 44 percent of voters to back the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2013 polls, creating the most serious challenge to Hun Sen in years.

- 'It's him again' -

CNRP figures tried to launch a boycott of Sunday's vote but election authorities warned they would take action against those urging a "clean-finger" campaign, setting off fear and resignation.

Hun Sen has a strong support base but many Cambodians are despondent at the idea of yet another term.

"It is him again," shrugged one man sitting outside a coffee shop who asked not to be named and who said he felt "hopeless" watching the results come in.

A food vendor who also did not want to be identified said she was "not happy."

"I predict life will be difficult for another five years," she told AFP.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, predicted simmering discontent among an increasingly disenfranchised public.

"I think what we will see here in Cambodia is continued passive resistance and anger by the Cambodian people, they weren't given the opportunity to vote for the people they wanted," he said.

Sam Rainsy, an opposition figure who lives in self-exile in France, denounced the foregone election win in a tweet late Sunday.

"For the Cambodian people, unable to make a real choice because of the absence of the CNRP, the result of this false election conducted in a climate of fear is a betrayal of the popular will," he said.

A final confirmed tally is not due until August 15.

Hun Sen has held onto power through political and family alliances in the police, military and media, and also benefited from patron China's financial largesse in the forms of loans to build infrastructure without questions over human rights abuses.

The 65-year-old was installed as prime minister during the Vietnamese occupation of the 1980s after defecting from the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge group that killed a quarter of Cambodia's population from 1975 to 1979.