Bangkok Post

Cambodian PM buoyed by local vote

Opposition party enjoys strong gains


PHNOM PENH: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday he was confident of keeping power in next year’s general election after the opposition’s gains in local elections fell short of their hopes.

Communal elections on Sunday were widely seen as a test of strength for opponents of Hun Sen, one of Asia’s longest serving leaders, who is accused by rights groups of using threats, arrests and court cases to undermine his political rivals.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won about 46% of votes announced compared with more than 51% for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the ballot for 1,600 communes.

It was a big gain for the opposition over its showing in the last local elections, but it had hoped for 60% of the vote.

“It is already clear that the ruling party will remain a majority party in the National Assembly and continue to lead the government ahead,” Hun Sen wrote in a Facebook post, alongside pictures of himself playing golf.

Hun Sen has been prime minister for 32 years and Cambodian politics has grown increasing­ly tense in the runup to elections.

The prime minister has repeatedly warned of violence if his party does not keep power, raising deep concerns in a country where some 1.8 million people died of starvation, violence, exhaustion or disease during the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

Supporters see the 64-year-old Hun Sen as a beacon of stability while detractors accuse him and a coterie of allies of huge self-enrichment, corruption and autocracy.

In a possible sign of nerves, Hun Sen broke with his tradition of avoiding the campaign trail to lead a major CPP rally on Friday in Phnom Penh.

Voting went smoothly on Sunday and observers recorded little malpractic­e or intimidati­on.

The opposition said it was still pleased with its results. The ruling party won control of 97% of Cambodia’s communes in the 2012 election, when opposition parties were divided.

“This is a big success for the CNRP,” opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann told reporters.

“To get 46% today means at least 56% in 2018,” CNRP senior member Monovithya Kem said.

If the popular vote is confirmed they would hold some 500 of the country’s 1,646 communes, up from 40 won five years ago.

The opposition did much better than expected in the last general election in 2013, leaving the ruling party with only a small majority in parliament.

Sunday’s result suggests they have managed to grow their appeal even as the government cracks down on them and their supporters.

Rights groups and the opposition have accused Hun Sen of using the courts to pursue CNRP figures as well as dissidents and rights workers.

A tally by Amnesty Internatio­nal counts some 27 political prisoners placed behind bars since 2013 with dozens of ongoing prosecutio­ns against others.

“The momentum has always been on the opposition side,” said Ou Virak of the Future Forum thinktank.

“Given that the 2018 election is the most important election, I think the opposition will be stronger and that makes the outcome of the next election pretty unpredicta­ble.”

The opposition has proven particular­ly popular among young voters, who often complain about a culture of corruption that only seems to benefit a wealthy elite.

The National Election Committee has not finished announcing all preliminar­y results of Sunday’s elections and official results will not be published until June 25.

More than 7 million Cambodians voted in Sunday’s commune elections.

 ?? AP ?? Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen waves from a truck as he leads a rally in Phnom Penh on Friday, ahead of Sunday’s local elections.
AP Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen waves from a truck as he leads a rally in Phnom Penh on Friday, ahead of Sunday’s local elections.

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