Simon Roughneen in Phnom Penh and Richard Lloyd Parry
Asia’s longest-standing leader was re-elected yesterday, but with a significantly reduced majority amid widespread allegations of dirty tricks.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 68 out of 123 seats — according to early projections — 22 fewer than at the last election, and a big advance for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
It represents a relative victory for the CNRP’s popular leader, Sam Rainsy, who returned from exile nine days before the election, too late either to vote or stand as a candidate.
Early reports suggested that the election was mostly conducted peacefully, although there was a stream of reports of irregularities. Even before the polls opened, the Opposition said that voter registration procedures were badly flawed, leaving as many as a million people disenfranchised.
Two government vehicles were burnt in Phnom Penh by people furious at not being allowed to vote because their names were not on electoral lists. The independent Committee for Free and Fair Elections said that the indelible ink with which voters were supposed to stain their fingers to prevent them from voting twice was easily washed off. “It is very difficult to proclaim this a free and fair election,” said Kol Preap, of Transparency International Cambodia.”
It was Cambodia’s fifth general election since 1993. It comes as a country once-synonymous with mass murder is experiencing an average annual growth of 7 per cent, driven by garment exports to the West, and large Chinese investment. Nonetheless, Cambodia remains one of Asia’s poorest countries.
Mr Hun Sen, 60, has led Cambodia for 28 years, and recently said he plans to remain in politics until the age of 74. He has long been accused of human rights abuses, persecuting opponents and rigging elections. A decision to pardon Mr Rainsy, who had been sentenced in absentia to 11 years in prison for crimes he denies, may have been intended to disarm such criticisms.Show