07/29/2013, 00.00
CAMBODIA
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As opposition challenges vote, irregularities cast a long shadow on PM Hun Sen's win

According to early results, the ruling party won 68 seats out of 123 with the opposition taking 55 seats. However, reports of electoral fraud and vote rigging are fuelling calls for a committee of inquiry. Human rights activists also speak of an atmosphere of "intimidation". Meanwhile, the prime minister is grooming a son for his succession.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Charges of vote rigging and fraud hang over Cambodia's parliamentary elections. Early results indicate that outgoing Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is likely to remain in power. For the opposition, which ran as a single ticket, the poll was marred by major "irregularities". Human rights groups and activists say the process was neither free nor fair. In some cases, the names of voters were left of the voters' list; in others, some voters went to the poll only to find that someone else had already cast their ballot.

Although the final count will take days to complete, partial results indicate that the ruling CPP won 68 seats (out of 123) against 55 for the opposition, up from 29. The strong showing by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) cut the ruling party's majority significantly.

The CNRP "cannot accept the results of the fifth parliamentary election . . . because the CNRP has found a lot of serious irregularities," the opposition party said in a statement on Monday.

In it, it also called for the "urgent" establishment of a committee with members from both parties, the UN and the National Election Committee to investigate fraud allegations.

Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that it was "very difficult to proclaim this a free and fair election".

There was no "level playing field", no equal access to the media and the opposition leader was not allowed to run as a candidate," he said.

The reference here is to 64-year-old Sam Rainsy. Sentenced to 11 years in prison in absentia in 2010, he recently received a royal pardon. Although he was able to return in July from his exile in Paris, he has always contended that his conviction was politically motivated. In the end, he was denied the right to run for office.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the partiality of the military and police created an "intimidating atmosphere" for voters. The police blocked access to the Prime Minister's residence and to his party's offices.

A former member of the Khmer Rouge (who, under Pol Pot, slaughtered a quarter of the country's population in the late 1970s), Hun turned Cambodia into one of the most promising economies of South-East Asia, with the garment industry leading the way and lots of money coming from China.

Cambodia's alliance with China, source of friction within ASEAN, has fuelled internal social tensions because of poor working conditions and forced land expropriation, this in a nation of 14 million people where one in three people live on less than a dollar a day.

Meanwhile, as the opposition sticks with a charismatic but aging leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, 60, is already working on renewing his party.

His youngest son, Hun Many, is already being groomed for succession as evinced by the fact that he took part in several rallies and meetings in this campaign.

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