Ruling party wins in Cambodia

SILVER LINING::The opposition’s vow to keep fighting results it says are fraudulent and a loss of seats may force the ruling party to pave the way for two-party politics


Mon, Sep 09, 2013 - Page 5

The National Election Committee yesterday handed victory in hotly disputed polls to the ruling party of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, prompting a defiant opposition to vow further protests over allegations of widespread poll fraud.

The kingdom has been stuck in a political impasse since the July poll, with the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Hun Sen adamant that it secured a legitimate victory despite vociferous calls from opposition leader Sam Rainsy for a probe into the alleged ballot fraud.

The CPP took 68 seats to 55 for Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), according to the committee. The election authority also confirmed that the CPP won 3.2 million votes nationally to the CNRP’s 2.9 million.

It is the ruling party’s worst election result since 1998, losing 22 seats since the last polls five years ago, and represents a significant inroad by the opposition.

However, the committee’s announcement ends the legal avenues open to the opposition to contest the poll, despite its allegations that fraud distorted the result and a rare mass rally of about 20,000 supporters on Saturday calling for an independent probe.

Rainsy yesterday moved quickly to reject the tally, insisting that the loss would not blunt his party’s efforts to overturn the poll, despite the official end of the appeal process.

“We do not accept results that do not reflect the real will of the people. These are the results of voter fraud,” he said. “We will protest the results in different ways because the current political situation is not like in the past. We need ... to find a reasonable solution.”

The CPP hailed the announcement as an end to the political crisis, saying it will convene parliament with royal assent irrespective of the CNRP’s next moves.

“There is no more ground to challenge [the results]. The CPP got 68 seats, so we will not let another party to take us hostage,” senior CPP member Yeam Yeap said.

However, he offered an apparent olive branch to the opposition, saying the government was ready to cooperate with them in a new National Assembly, adding that the loss of seats was a “big experience for the CPP leaders to consider.”

On Saturday, about 20,000 demonstrators gathered in Phnom Penh in one of the largest opposition shows of popular force in years.

Rainsy, a French-educated former banker, was excluded from standing in the polls despite a recent pardon for criminal convictions that he says were politically motivated.

Experts have said Hun Sen has been significantly weakened by the loss of seats and protest, forcing him into rare indications of compromise during the weeks of dispute over the polls.

Moreover, the results may have carved a space for genuine two-party politics to develop in the kingdom.

Hun Sen, 61, a former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected, has vowed to rule until he is 74.