Voters cast their ballots in Takmau, the hometown of Prime Minister Hun Sen
Cambodia’s ruling party claimed a narrow election victory late on Sunday following a vote that observers described as deeply flawed.
Although Prime Minister Hun Sen won another five-year term, extending his 28-year grip on power, the opposition won huge gains in parliament taking 55 seats to the government’s 68, according to a ruling party spokesman.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was not allowed to run or vote after his return from exile this month, described the election as a “historic day.” But he warned of protests after widespread reports of disenfranchised voters.
Rioters, angry that their names were missing from voting lists, torched military police vehicles in Stung Meanchey on the outskirts of the capital.
“Yesterday I saw my name [on the electoral list] but today it was not there. This is not good,” said Phnom Penh tuk-tuk driver Prum Seiha, a supporter of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Transparency International (TI), which monitored polling stations across Cambodia, said vehicles without license plates were seen ferrying voters to polling stations and supposedly indelible ink used to mark the fingers of voters was easy to remove.
“Preliminary reporting … has contained an unusually high number of critical incidents at the polls,” TI said in a statement.
In the run-up to the vote, the opposition complained that their populist message was sidelined by television stations sympathetic to the ruling party in a country where about 85 percent of people regularly watch television but only about 20 percent use the internet.
Hun Sen's government has faced repeated accusations of rampant corruption and land grabbing with some 10 percent of Phnom Penh’s population of two million reportedly victims of eviction, according to Housing Rights Taskforce, an NGO.
Preliminary results from the election commission showed opposition victories in the capital and in surrounding Kandal province, traditional strongholds of the ruling party.
In Takmau, Kandal province, the hometown of the prime minister just south of Phnom Penh, postgraduate student Mao Sophorn said that the ruling party’s popularity built on stability in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge era and economic development had started to wane.
“This time people know about Hun Sen, they know that he’s acting, they know he isn’t good,” he said after voting for the opposition CNRP. “If the election is fair, the CNRP would win.”