Ruling party lawmakers officially extended Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule for another five years yesterday, renaming the longtime strongman prime minister of the Southeast Asian nation in a parliamentary vote boycotted by the opposition.
The vote was considered a formality, and Hun Sen — who has ruled virtually unchallenged for nearly three decades — took the oath of office in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace later in the day.
The opposition stayed away from parliament’s opening session on Monday and boycotted the legislature again yesterday over allegations the country’s disputed July ballot was marred by fraud.
Confident as he spoke before the half-empty assembly, Hun Sen declared his re-election “a historic day for Cambodia.”
He also dismissed the allegations of cheating, calling the vote a “free, fair, just and transparent election.”
Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have talked several times this month in an effort to resolve the political deadlock.
Hun Sen told reporters yesterday he was ready to talk again — but only if opposition lawmakers take their seats in parliament.
“Before resuming negotiations, you have to first take an oath,” Hun Sen said in comments directed at the opposition.
He said the ruling party was considering offering several senior posts to the opposition, including vice president of the legislature and that the government “is determined to undertake thorough reforms in all fields.”
The parliamentary vote yesterday saw all 68 ruling party lawmakers rename Hun Sen to his post. All 55 seats held by the opposition were empty.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party took a surprise hit in the July election, seeing its majority weaken, while the opposition secured 55 seats, up from the 29 it had previously held. The result emboldened the opposition, which has staged several protests and pushed unsuccessfully for an independent probe of election irregularities.
None of it derailed Hun Sen’s track to stay in power, and analysts say the opposition has few options left.
“This is a huge wake-up call [for Hun Sen’s government] ... and now they all acknowledge that they all need to reform,” Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said. “But the question is, are they able to reform?”
Cambodia historian David Chandler, emeritus professor of history at Australia’s Monash University, said the opposition could resume protests and “take to the streets, but that’s very dangerous” because of the threat of bloodshed.