A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 23 July 2023. Cambodia's seventh national assembly elections are held on 23 July 2023. EFE/EPA/KITH SEREY

Hun Sen’s party takes 96% of seats in Cambodian parliament

Bangkok/Washington, Jul 23 (EFE).- The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by strongman Hun Sen won 120 (95 percent) of parliament’s 125 seats in the weekend’s general election, in which it ran virtually unopposed.

According to the provisional results published Monday by the National Election Committee, with 98.3 percent of the votes counted, the CPP took 82.3 percent of all of Sunday’s valid ballots, or more than 6.2 million votes out of a total of 8.2 million.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kisses his ballot at a polling station in Kandal province, Cambodia, 23 July 2023. EFE/EPA/KITH SEREY

The victory had been expected after the main opposition Candlelight Party was barred from running, and in the absence of any other party that could challenge Hun Sen, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1985.

However, unlike 2018 when the CPP took all every single seat, the royalist Funcinpec party led by Prince Norodom Chakravuth, gained 9.2 percent of the valid votes (more than 700,000), taking five seats in parliament.

No other party got more than 1.7 percent of the valid votes.

A large number of invalid ballots were among the results, totaling around 5.4 percent (some 432,000 votes).

On Sunday photos were posted to social media showing ballots crossed out with a large X, despite local authorities threatening to press charges against those boycotting the poll.

A police officer holds his ballot while voting at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 23 July 2023. EFE/EPA/KITH SEREY

A suppressed opposition, concerns around the neutrality of the NEC, jailing of activists and the muzzling of independent media are just some of the arguments for which international organizations described the election as a sham.

On Monday, the US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said “the United States is troubled that the July 23 Cambodian national elections were neither free nor fair.”

Miller denounced that in the run-up to the election, “authorities engaged in a pattern of threats and harassment against the political opposition, media, and civil society that undermined the spirit of the country’s constitution and Cambodia’s international obligations. These actions denied the Cambodian people a voice and a choice in determining the future of their country.”

In response, Washington was imposing visa restrictions on individuals who undermined democracy and pausing certain foreign assistance programs, he said without elaborating.

Miller demanded that the government restore a “genuine multi-party democracy,” that it put an end to “politically motivated trials,” reverse the convictions of critics and allow independent media outlets to “reopen and function without interference.”

Hun Sen has hinted that this will be the last time he goes to the polls and that he will hand over power to his son, 45-year-old army commander Hun Manet, who made his debut in the political arena at the head of the CPP on Sunday.

In an interview aired by China’s Phoenix TV on Friday, Hun Sen said that Hun Manet could take over the top job in the coming weeks. EFE