PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s state election board has ratified the victory of incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party, rejecting opposition claims that the polls were unfair.
The results announced on state television Sunday morning handed 68 National Assembly seats to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and 55 to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Although the results have now been settled by the announcement from the National Election Committee, there is no sign there will be an immediate lessening of the political tension that has wracked the country since the contentious polls.
The opposition has contested the outcome of the July 28 election, saying it would have won the majority of seats had the election been fair, but its legal challenges were rejected. It had threatened street protests and a boycott of the assembly unless until its demand for an independent probe of alleged election irregularities was met.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 28 years and remains firmly in control, although the opposition won significantly more seats than it had in the past.
He has a record of cracking down on the opposition after previous elections, but the surprising strength of the opposition, also reflected in a close popular vote, has raised speculation he may try to play the reform card this time around to placate critics and accommodate the public will.
“The Cambodian People’s Party understands the message that the people expressed through their ballots for the need for the new government to undertake reforms,” said Khieu Kanharith, Hun Sen’s Information Minister and spokesman for his ruling party. “We’ll undertake thorough reforms for the sake of our country.”
The new parliament is supposed to be seated within 60 days of the election.
Nearly 20,000 opposition supporters gathered Saturday in Cambodia’s capital to cheer their leaders’ demands for an investigation of what their leaders said was vote tampering and widespread voter disenfranchisement. The opposition vowed Sunday to continue its protests.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his party would follow through with a protest plan announced at a rally on Saturday.
“We will not recognize any result proclaimed by the NEC,” he said, adding it was “no surprise” the government-appointed election board would announce a victory for Hun Sen’s party.
“We will continue to protest all over the country, not only in Phnom Penh. Protests will take the form of marches,” he said.
Asked what he expected to accomplish with such activities, he responded: “It’s a matter of principle. We want the truth to be established, the truth for the Cambodian people. The truth that has been distorted and even reversed by the NEC.”
The protest plans have sparked fears of violence, especially because of the government’s deployment of troops and armored vehicles into the capital days after the election. Hun Sen has a reputation for dealing harshly with opponents.
It remains unclear whether the opposition will boycott the assembly sessions.
It has said that would deprive Hun Sen of the necessary quorum to form a new government. Hun Sen’s response was that the law would allow him to form a new government anyway.
In previous election years, opposition members have boycotted initial National Assembly sessions and later been admitted into the body. But a boycott could mean the opposition loses out on parliamentary leadership positions such as committee chairmanships.
Another opposition leader, Mu Sochua, said that if opposition lawmakers take their seats without further protests, “the people will be very angry. We have to be careful before we make a move.”
David Chandler, a leading Cambodia scholar, said it would be wise for the opposition lawmakers to simply take up the 55 seats they won rather than risk losing their say in government.
“I can sympathize with the CNRP, but I think they’re being very unrealistic in their demands for power,” he said.
Ruling party spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the exact date for opening the new assembly has not yet been set but it will be before Sept. 28. He ruled out a coalition government with the Cambodia National Rescue Party. His party is now drafting the policies to focus on reforms to help develop the country, he said.