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Cambodia’s ruling party secures absolute parliamentary control

As expected, former PM Hun Sen elected Senate president
Former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his vote at a polling station during the Senate election in Takhmao city, Kandal province on Feb 25.

Former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his vote at a polling station during the Senate election in Takhmao city, Kandal province on Feb 25. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 26, 2024 06:56 AM GMT
Updated: February 26, 2024 07:01 AM GMT

Former Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen was elected Senate president, at elections held on Sunday, which will enable him to stand in as head of state when King Norodom Sihamoni is out of the country.

Senate elections, held every six years, also resulted in the long ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) winning 55 of the 58 contested seats, more than 80 percent of the overall vote, according to preliminary results.

Analysts said the results would further secure Hun Sen’s family power structure and were widely anticipated given a long-running crackdown on the political opposition, which enabled the CPP to win 120 of the 125 seats at the National Assembly elections in July. 

A month later, Hun Sen transferred power to his eldest son Hun Manet and last Wednesday his youngest son, Hun Many, was promoted to deputy prime minister. Cambodia now has 11 deputy prime ministers.

“This is another great success for the CPP after we won a landslide victory in the general election in July 2023,” CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan told the Chinese mouthpiece Xinhua.

The remaining three Senate seats were likely won by the Khmer Will Party, affiliated with the disqualified main opposition Candlelight Party. The royalist Funcinpec party failed to make any impact after it won five seats in the National Assembly at the elections in July.

"There are at least 60 political prisoners behind bars"

“These Senate elections were all about cementing a power structure as dictated by Hun Sen and deployed by the CPP,” said one academic, who declined to be named. “But when you look at the last five or six years and the jailing of activists; a democracy this is not.”

Human rights groups say there are at least 60 political prisoners behind bars, including the former leader of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party Kem Sokha. His appeal against a 27-year sentence for treason is currently being heard.

Others serving lengthy jail terms include the Khmer-language Bible editor Theary Seng and trade unionist Chhim Sithar, who led a year-long strike against the NagaWorld casino amid mass layoffs.

The National Election Committee (NEC) said 11,730, or 99.86 percent, of 11,747 eligible voters made up from the 125 National Assembly members and 11,622 commune councilors had voted in Sunday's poll.

Official Senate election results are expected to be announced by April. Of another four Senate seats, two will be appointed by Sihamoni and two by the National Assembly. 

NEC Chairman Prach Chan said temporary results would be released on Feb. 29 and allocation of seats should be announced between March 4 and 6 if there are no complaints filed by the political parties.

“Overall, the election was conducted smoothly, with no reports of violence or intimidation," he told a press briefing. "It was a free and fair election for all contesting political parties."

Sihamoni and queen mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk left Phnom Penh on Monday for Beijing where they were scheduled to undergo medical checkups. Outgoing Senate President, Say Chhum, was expected to assume the title of acting head of state.

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