The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has once again been returned to power in Cambodia. Election results are hotly contested by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), and allegations of voter fraud are being levied against the ruling party.
The party’s leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been in power for 28 years. He is one of the longest-ruling prime ministers in Asia. His lengthy tenure in office has been seen by many in the opposition party and the international community as a symbol of the government’s authoritarian culture.
Even with the prospect of serious voting irregularities, the ruling party’s victory was slim — with the CPP’s seats in parliament declining from 90 to 68. The remaining 55 seats went to the opposition CNRP. This election was the closest in 15 years with the ruling party garnering only 55 percent of the vote.
The opposition was surprised by the unexpected royal pardon granted to the self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Rainsy had been sentenced to 11 years in prison for defamation of the CPP. Rainsy’s return in the month leading up to elections and an invigorated youth vote led to high voter turnout and a more powerful opposition party. Despite his return, Rainsy was not allowed to run to reclaim his seat in parliament or vote in elections.
Rainsy has made statements suggesting that opposition will not accept the results of the election and is calling for an investigation of the elections. He alleges that ineffective voter registration mechanisms, fake names on the voting rolls, and other improper practices led to Sen’s re-election. Rainsy also claims that an estimated 1.3 million Cambodians were not allowed to vote.
While the votes are still being counted, the election is technically over. Official results will be released by the National Election Committee in the next few days. But at this point, it’s looking like another victory for the CPP.
Cambodia is still recovering from the days of the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian people are still striving for freedom. The U.S. must make it clear that free and fair elections are the best way to ensure freedoms, and it should organize the necessary international pressure to ensure that the opposition party’s concerns in Cambodia are adequately addressed.