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Hun Sen's Cambodia

Five things to know about post-election Cambodia

Hun Sen now rules a one-party state, though questions about legitimacy remain

Cambodian leader Hun Sen is set to rule the country for another five years. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

PHNOM PENH -- The overwhelming victory of Cambodia's ruling party in the July 29 election has extended Prime Minister Hun Sen's 33-year reign by another five years and provided him with a solid one-party parliament.

Western countries are questioning the credibility of the one-horse election, which followed a court-ordered dissolution of the main opposition party in November.

Possible trade sanctions could prove a blow to Cambodia's economy, and Hun Sen is set to increase his dependence on China.

What were the results of the election?

Official results from the National Election Committee will not be out until mid-August. However, the ruling Cambodian People's Party has claimed it won up to 123 of the 125 National Assembly seats that were up for grabs.

A party spokesman said this is based on the CPP having won 4.8 million votes, or 77.4% of the total.

Meanwhile, the election committee announced that voter turnout, which was closely watched amid calls to boycott the election, came in at a higher-than-expected 82.89%. The figure beats the 70% turnout for the hotly contested general elections of 2013, when the CPP faced a hard-charging and now-outlawed opposition party.

How did this landslide happen?

Other than the CPP, 19 parties contested the election, but none could be called viable. Hun Sen made sure of this after the Cambodia National Rescue Party beaome a clear threat in 2013, then made additional gains in last summer's local elections.

Eight months ago, the Supreme Court ordered that the CNRP be disbanded and its senior members banned from politics for five years. The ruling was based on legislation passed in February 2017 that forces the dissolution of political parties whose leaders hold criminal convictions.

Cambodia has a history of bringing what many consider to be trumped-up charges against opposition leaders.

But the government has done more than quash political opposition. It has also maneuvered to shut down independent media outlets and throw activists behind bars.

As for the high voter turnout, human rights groups say the CPP intimidated voters into casting ballots by issuing threats through local governmental bodies and employers.

How is the international community responding?

The U.S. was quick to slam the electoral process as "flawed" and said it could take "additional steps." After the CNRP was disbanded late last year, Washington imposed visa bans on senior Cambodian officials.

Canada condemned the election as "undemocratic."

The European Union reiterated that the electoral process was not legitimate.

This was a soft response considering the 28-member bloc expressed concerns over the dissolution of the CNRP and said it would review the trade preference agreement it has with Cambodia.

Meanwhile, China congratulated Cambodia for a "smooth and successful" election.

Beijing sent a group of observers to monitor polling booths across the nation. Sending observers is a way foreign governments can suggest they approve of a country's electoral process. The U.S. and the EU rejected Cambodia's requests to send observers. Japan, which provided ballot boxes and technical support, at the last minute declined Phnom Penh's request for observers.

Japan has not made any clear statements regarding the election. Asked if Tokyo viewed the process as free and fair, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga noted that Japan did not send election observers; he declined to comment further.

Will the elections impact Cambodia's economy?

Cambodia's economy has been averaging 7% annual growth, one of the fastest rates in Southeast Asia.

Its export-oriented economy, however, depends on the U.S. and EU, the biggest buyers of Cambodian goods. The country's massive garment industry, which hires millions of people, currently ships nearly 70% of its clothes and shoes to the two markets.

If the EU decides to get tough with Hun Sen's government and scraps its trade preference scheme with Cambodia, the garment industry would suffer greatly, as would rice and other industries that enjoy tax-free access to the big market.

Some exporters say that even if trade sanctions are not imposed, the West could take lesser steps that would indirectly impact their businesses.

What is Hun Sen's next move?

The prime minister's dependence on China is set to increase as Western countries shy away. Beijing is now by far Cambodia's largest foreign direct investor and has promised billions of dollars in infrastructure development. But the increase of Chinese-backed projects is adding to Cambodia's heavy debt load. China holds nearly half of Cambodian government debt.

Having secured another five years in office and achieved a landslide electoral victory, some observers expect Hun Sen to soften his stance to keep Western sanctions at bay. Some believe he could decide to reinstate the CNRP and release its former leader, Kem Sokha, from prison.

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