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Cambodian PM wins big in 'rigged,' one-sided election

Hun Sen expected to transfer power to oldest son Hun Manet within a month

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares to cast his vote at a polling station in Kandal province on July 23 during the general election

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares to cast his vote at a polling station in Kandal province on July 23 during the general election. (Photo: AFP)

Published: July 24, 2023 06:40 AM GMT

Updated: July 24, 2023 08:50 AM GMT

Prime Minister Hun Sen will transfer power to his eldest son Hun Manet by mid-August after his long-ruling Cambodians People’s Party (CPP) claimed victory in Sunday’s national election, which was widely ridiculed in the West and by human rights activists.

Hun Sen — who has ruled Cambodia for almost four decades — told Chinese television before the ballot that General Hun Manet, commander of the Royal Cambodian Army, would pave the way for a dynastic succession.

“It is also possible that in just three or four weeks, Hun Manet can become the prime minister. Let’s see what other people say,” Hun Sen told China’s Phoenix TV.

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“I am the one who makes the biggest sacrifice. Right now, I have absolute power, but in about a month, I won't have the power to sign any bills the same way as I do today,” he added.

The CPP traditionally meets within a month after an election when it elects the party leader who will become prime minister, a job Hun Sen has held for more than 38 years.

“I believe that Manet is more competent than me,” Hun Sen said.

However, the 70-year-old autocrat is expected to remain president of the CPP and an overarching figure in the Politburo.

He has previously said he would still control politics as head of the ruling party and expects to see his grandson become leader in the 2030s.

Hun Manet, a West Point graduate, suspended all of his military positions, enabling him to stand for election in Phnom Penh and declare himself a candidate for the prime minister's job, a political route made easier by his father’s seven-year crackdown on political opposition and dissent.

The National Assembly is scheduled to convene on Aug. 28 and a new government will be sworn in the following day.

Counting is continuing, however, the CPP appears to have won 120 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly following the disqualification of the opposition Candlelight Party (CLP) by the National Election Committee (NEC) for lodging incorrect electoral paperwork.

That followed the closure of independent media like Voice of Democracy (VOD) amid a series of allegations involving plots to overthrow Hun Sen resulting in the arrests of more than 100 people. Many have been jailed while others fled abroad.

In an editorial, the Washington Post said this election would amount to a “lopsided win in a rigged parliamentary election.”

Elsewhere, the royalist Funcinpec party improved on its dismal performance of the previous two elections — ending this country’s status as a one-party state — by winning five seats but this was well short of its own forecast that it would win at least half the available seats.

For the remaining 16 parties, this election had little to offer. None were expected to score much more than one percent of the overall vote.

Election day was quiet, after a lackluster campaign, and security tight amid the deployment of 100,000 police and military personnel after the NEC and CPP pulled out all stops to encourage registered voters to cast their ballots.

About 9.7 million people registered to vote, up 1.4 million on the 2018 elections when a record 8.6 percent of total votes cast were spoiled. The NEC is yet to finalize the figures but said voter turnout was about 84.58 percent.


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