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Hun Sen's Cambodia

Cambodia declares ruling party's election sweep official

Attention turns to chance of Western sanctions over 'flawed' poll

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen poses for photos with supporters in Phnom Penh.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Cambodia's ruling party has won all of the 125 lower house parliamentary seats in an election last month that was slammed by Western countries as flawed, according to official results announced on Wednesday night.

The outcome of the July 29 poll, reported by the election committee, entrenches the Southeast Asian nation as a one-party state and adds to the power of strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held office since 1985.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party now has absolute control over the parliament, holding all available seats in the lower and upper houses.

Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled former opposition leader, criticized the CPP's parliamentary monopoly in a Facebook post, saying that "a 100% victory is seen only in communist or the most authoritarian countries."

The outcome was widely expected. Although 20 parties contested the election, there was no viable competitor to the CPP as the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was forced to disband following a controversial court order last November. The CNRP had made large gains in the previous election, winning 44% of the votes against the CPP's 48% in 2013.

In the latest election, the CPP won 77% of the 6.36 million valid votes, according to the election commission.

Western countries have already expressed their disapproval of the electoral process. The U.S. issued a statement calling the election "neither free nor fair," slamming it as "flawed." The European Union, meanwhile, said the outcome of an election without genuine electoral competition "lacks credibility."

By contrast, China, by far the largest foreign direct investor in Cambodia, congratulated the CPP on its victory and promised to support the country's economic and social development.

All eyes are now on whether the U.S. and EU will move to impose sanctions that could prove a blow to the country's economy, currently one of the fastest growing in Southeast Asia, an achievement Hun Sen frequently refers to in his appeals to the public.

The EU, which buys 45% of Cambodia's $6.7 billion worth of garment exports, is considering scrapping the country's tariff-free access to the single market. The U.S., meanwhile, is suggesting expanding visa restrictions on senior government figures as well as freezing their assets.

In an apparent bid to make his government look more democratic, Hun Sen said earlier on Wednesday that he will invite the other 19 political parties to participate by offering them deputy minister posts or other advisory positions. He said the CPP wants to seek helpful advice in developing the nation.

Along with other former CNRP officials, Sam Rainsy had called on voters to boycott the election in a bid to undermine its legitimacy. However, the revised voter turnout announced on Wednesday was over 83%, compared with 70% in the 2013 election.

CNRP officials, together with human rights groups, have argued the CPP used intimidation to get out the vote.

Sam Rainsy has also alleged manipulation of the vote figures, noting that the election committee is dominated by CPP members and that polling stations were monitored by groups linked with the ruling party. The U.S., EU and Japan refused to send election observers.

Hun Sen in a recent speech denied any election improprieties, saying "I swear to die" if such allegations are true, and urged his accusers to make the same pledge.

The electoral victory gives the authoritarian another five years in office.

"After bulldozing his way to what looks like a parliamentary monopoly, [Hun Sen] will now negotiate from what he sees as a position of strength," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University. Thitinan added Cambodia's domestic political situation may ease and that Hun Sen could placate the international community by making conciliatory moves toward the CNRP, such as releasing a former leader who was jailed last year.

"The U.S. and EU should maximize pressure on Hun Sen," he said, "and bring enough pressure to bear for him to make concessions and compromise."


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