A Cambodian woman casts her vote during the general elections at a polling station in Phnom Penh on July 29. Cambodia voted on in an election set to extend strongman premier Hun Sen's 33 years in power after the only credible opposition was dissolved, effectively turning the country into a one-party state. (Photo by Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)
Prime Minister Hun Sen has extended his grip on power after his long ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) claimed victory in every electorate of the 125-seat National Assembly, formalizing Cambodia's status as a one-party state.
The improbable result followed a one-sided election bereft of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was banned last year and its leader jailed after claims it was trying to overthrow the government.
At elections five years ago the CNRP won nearly half of the popular vote and went tantalizingly close to snatching power from Hun Sen who has now ruled for 33 years. A crackdown on dissent and independent media followed.
"The CPP won 77.5 percent of the votes and won all the parliamentary seats," CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told Reuters in regard to Sunday's poll.
The National Election Committee (NEC) has not released its preliminary results, as it normally does on the night of the election, saying this would not happen until mid-August.
It did say the turnout rate was more that 80 percent but the CNRP and human rights groups have cast doubts on that figure arguing voters were bullied into voting while noting the NEC had not released figures surrounding deliberately spoilt ballot papers.
"They're expected to be high and an embarrassment for Hun Sen," said one election observer who declined to be named.
Nineteen other minority parties contested the poll. All but three were branded proxies for the CPP by pro-democracy advocates.
The United States and Europe, among others, are threatening sanctions for 'undermining democracy.'
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country had "serious concerns" and that the current poll had "reversed 25 years of progress towards democracy in Cambodia."
"Freedom of expression and association underpin democratic societies. Australia is concerned the election took place in an environment where not all political parties, civil society organizations and media could operate freely.
"Australian is disappointed that Cambodian people have been unable to freely choose their representatives," she said in a statement.
Election day was quiet, websites and news portals were blocked and the Twitter feed with Cambodian searches was disrupted by Russian language pornographic sites.
Independent journalists contradicted the high turnout claim by the NEC saying queues at polling booths were small when compared with previous elections.
One report captured a senior minister bribing local reporters while pro-government Fresh News and newspapers, The Khmer Times and The Phnom Penh Post, touted the turnout rate as a slap down for the CNRP, which had urged a boycott of the poll.
The election was also strongly supported by China, which has pumped billions of dollars into this tiny but strategically important nation. Beijing, stepped in with funding, polling booths and aid after Western countries, backed by the U.S., withdrew their support.
Meanwhile the country's small number of Catholics have remained quiet saying privately they feared the consequences of speaking out, after Hun Sen told a group of Christians that Cambodia risked war if he was not returned at this election.
"On present form post-election Cambodia will closely resemble pre-election Cambodia," said Gavin Greenwood, a risk analyst with Hong Kong-based Allan & Associates.
"The official opposition within the country has been muted by force, exile or self-preservation and there is no obvious movement or leaders able or willing to take on Hun Sen's regime," he told ucanews.com.
"As with many dictatorial autocracies the greatest threat to the supreme leader will come from within, as and when they become a liability rather than asset to their inner circle."