A deadlock over Cambodia’s disputed election hardened yesterday as the opposition rejected official results confirming a victory for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long-ruling party and raised the prospect of further street protests.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said it would not accept the latest results because the government had failed to address its allegations of widespread cheating and called on the international community not to recognize the outcome.
The crisis over the July 28 election is Hun Sen’s biggest political challenge in two decades and threatens to destabilize the small, fast-growing Southeast Asian nation that has built strong economic and political ties with China in recent years.
The National Election Committee — a state body seen as dominated by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) — announced official results yesterday showing the CPP had won a majority of votes in 19 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces.
That was broadly in line with preliminary results that the CPP said gave it 68 seats in parliament to the 55 won by the CNRP, a hefty loss of 22 seats for the ruling party.
The committee did not say when it would release final results for seats in parliament. The CNRP has claimed victory, saying it won 63 seats in the 123-seat parliament.
“We are disappointed and reject this result,” deputy CNRP head Kem Sokha told a news conference in Phnom Penh. “The National Election Committee is responsible for any possible uprising or protest by people who are voters and want justice.”
Even by the government’s own figures, the vote was Hun Sen’s worst election result since Cambodia returned to full democracy in 1998 after decades of war and turmoil that included the 1975 to 1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge.
The election revealed widespread unhappiness with his iron-fisted rule over issues such as land rights and rising inequality, despite rapid economic growth. The CNRP is trying to capitalize on that while emotions still run high, especially among younger Cambodians eager for change.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who returned from exile to galvanize the campaign of the newly merged opposition for the election, has already said he should be prime minister.
Sam Rainsy left the country again last week to attend his daughter’s wedding in the US, but is expected to return this week.
Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Tuesday last week to demand an international inquiry into the poll. Further opposition protests in reaction to the official results could push tensions higher still, but Kem Sokha said more rallies would only be held as a last resort.
On Thursday, the government deployed armored personnel carriers and soldiers in Phnom Penh as a precaution ahead of possible protests. Kem Sokha called on the government to stop further military deployments, which he said were unnecessary and risked raising tensions further.
The CNRP said 1.3 million names were missing from electoral rolls and that Hun Sen’s side stuffed ballot boxes with illegal votes.
The allegations are being investigated by the committee. Sam Rainsy wants the UN and non-governmental bodies to take part, which the government has rejected.
The US and EU have said an investigation should be conducted by Cambodian authorities.