Bangkok Post

Hun Sen’s new term

Cambodian opposition boycotts House again


Cambodia strongman Hun Sen begins another five-year term as prime minister, declaring his victory ‘‘historic’’ despite accusation­s of rigged elections, mass protests and a boycott of parliament by the opposition.

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s longtime authoritar­ian leader Hun Sen began another five-year term as prime minister yesterday, declaring his victory ‘‘historic’’ despite accusation­s of rigged elections, mass protests and a boycott of parliament by the opposition.

Ruling party lawmakers renamed Hun Sen as prime minister of the Southeast Asian nation in a parliament­ary vote that was boycotted by the opposition. Hun Sen, who has ruled virtually unchalleng­ed for nearly three decades, took the oath of office in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace yesterday afternoon.

The opposition’s 55 elected law- makers stayed away from parliament’s opening session on Monday and again yesterday over allegation­s the country’s disputed July ballot was marred by fraud. The ruling party’s 68 lawmakers renamed Hun Sen to his post.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would announce the party’s next step today but called Hun Sen’s reappointm­ent a ‘‘constituti­onal coup’’.

Speaking before the half-empty National Assembly, Hun Sen displayed his characteri­stic confidence and dismissed allegation­s of cheating.

‘‘Today is a historic day for Cambodia,’’ Hun Sen said in his acceptance speech. ‘‘The election results are a reflection of the full support we have from the majority of Cambodians.’’

The July 28 vote, he added, was a ‘‘free, fair, just and transparen­t election’’.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party took a surprise hit at the election, emerging with its weakest results in more than a decade. Its majority withered to 68 out of 123 National Assembly seats, while the opposition secured 55 seats, up from the 29 it previously held.

The result emboldened the opposition, which has staged several protests that drew tens of thousands of supporters who backed its call for an independen­t probe of election irregulari­ties.

Experts say that a stronger and more vocal opposition could lead Hun Sen to make some changes in the government and small political compromise­s but it is unlikely to loosen his grip on power.

‘‘This is a huge wake-up call [for Hun Sen’s government] ... and now they all acknowledg­e that they all need to reform,’’ said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. ‘‘But the question is, are they able to reform?’’ Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have held three rounds of talks this month in an effort to resolve the political deadlock.

Hun Sen said yesterday he was ready to talk again — but only if opposition lawmakers take their seats in parliament.

‘‘Before resuming negotiatio­ns, you have to first take an oath,’’ Hun Sen said in comments aimed at the opposition. He said the ruling party was considerin­g offering several senior posts to the opposition, including vicepresid­ent of the legislatur­e, and that the government ‘‘is determined to undertake thorough reforms in all fields’’.

‘‘He’s going to have to make some calibratio­ns,’’ said Cambodia historian David Chandler, emeritus professor of history at Australia’s Monash University.

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