State media routinely ignore opposition rallies. This news blackout encouraged many Cambodians to seek information from social media, usually with just a click on their phones.
Despite its large campaign
budget, the CPP underestimated the frustrations of ordinary Cambodians and the opposition’s growing popularity, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Ou Virak said.
“It wasn’t until shortly before election day that we started to see the impressive level of youth involvement,” he said. “Even then people weren’t sure to what extent this would impact the actual results.”
More than a third of the country’s 9.6 million eligible voters are under 30, although many work abroad and do not cast ballots, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia said.
The CPP has limited youth appeal. Hun Sen is 61 and has vowed to rule until he is 74. Its youth wing is widely regarded as a political vehicle for Hun Sen’s youngest son, Hun Many, 30.
The opposition CNRP has a more youthful image, with Koul Kanha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, calling it the
Formed last year after the merger of two parties, the CNRP owed part of its resurgence to social media. Photos and video of alleged election fraud also went viral thanks to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
The government did not attempt to shut down the social network, despite many users posting critical — and sometimes racist and vulgar — remarks about CPP figures.
Hun Sen disavowed a Facebook page bearing his name after Sam Rainsy repeatedly taunted him for having fewer “likes.”
The rise of a youthful opposition to Hun Sen could signal a “Cambodian Spring” similar to the popular but often ill-fated movements against authoritarian rulers in the Arab world, some analysts say.
Ou Rithy disagrees.
“Young people don’t want a revolution, they want evolution — a gradual change based on non-violence,” he said.
Sam Rainsy has accused the CPP of colluding with the National Election Committee to steal 2.3 million votes from his party. He disputes results showing the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55.
Hun Sen has vowed to form a government despite the opposition’s campaign.