PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Ruling party lawmakers in Cambodia officially extended Hun Sen’s rule for another five years Tuesday, renaming the longtime strongman prime minister of the Southeast Asian nation in a parliamentary vote boycotted by the opposition.
The vote was considered a formality, and Hun Sen — who has ruled virtually unchallenged for nearly three decades — will take the oath of office in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace later in the day.
The opposition stayed away from parliament’s opening session Monday and boycotted the legislature again Tuesday over allegations the country’s disputed July ballot was marred by fraud.
Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have held talks several times this month in an effort to resolve the political deadlock. Hun Sen told reporters Tuesday he was ready to talk again — but only if opposition lawmakers take their seats in parliament.
He also said the ruling party was considering offering several senior posts to the opposition, including vice president of the legislature.
The parliamentary vote Tuesday saw all 68 ruling party lawmakers rename Hun Sen to his post. All 55 seats held by the opposition were empty.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party took a surprise hit in the July election, seeing its majority weaken while the opposition secured 55 seats, up from the 29 it had previously held.
The result emboldened the opposition, which has staged several protests and pushed unsuccessfully for an independent probe of election irregularities.
None of it derailed Hun Sen’s track to stay in power, and analysts say the opposition has few options left.
“This is a huge wake-up call (for Hun Sen’s government) … and now they all acknowledge that they all need to reform,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “But the question is, are they able to reform?”
Cambodia historian David Chandler, emeritus professor of history at Australia’s Monash University, said the opposition could resume protests “take to the streets, but that’s very dangerous” because of the threat of bloodshed.
At least one person died and 10 were injured when security forces cracked down on opposition protests earlier this month.
And on Sunday, security forces backed by thugs broke up a peaceful opposition protest at a Buddhist temple compound in the capital, wielding stun guns, electric batons and slingshots that left about 10 people injured, said Rupert Abbott of Amnesty International. Among the injured was a 72-year-old woman hit in the chest with a marble fired from a slingshot, he said.
On Monday, Sam Rainsy called the convening of parliament without the opposition “a step backward for Cambodia” and a violation of “the constitution which calls for pluralism, not one-party rule.”
Hun Sen responded Tuesday, saying the opposition’s decision not to attend was its own and the legislature’s doors remained open.