Doubts are also likely to be raised about the actual turnout figures, because several established poll-watching groups — as well as national contingents from the United States and the European Union — declined to take part because they felt the polls were not legitimate. One of the bigger Cambodian groups participating in poll-watching was led by one of Hun Sen’s sons.
After the polls closed, exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had earlier urged Cambodians not to vote, slammed the election.
“For the Cambodian people, unable to make a real choice because of the absence of the CNRP, the result of this false election conducted in a climate of fear is a betrayal of the popular will,” Sam Rainsy posted on his Facebook page.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party was alarmed by the results of the 2013 election, when the race was close enough for the opposition to claim that it would have won had it not been for manipulation of the voter registration process.
Along with fracturing the political opposition — including pressuring Sam Rainsy into exile and jailing his successor, Kem Sokha — Hun Sen’s government also silenced critical voices in the media. Over the past year, about 30 radio stations shut down, and two English-language newspapers that provided serious reporting were gutted, one forced to close and the other put under ownership friendly to the government.
Just ahead of the polls, the government ordered the temporary blocking of 17 websites, citing regulations prohibiting media from disseminating information that might affect security. The blocked websites included those of the U.S. government-funded Voice of America as well as local media.
Hun Sen, whose 33 years in power make him among the world’s longest-serving national leaders, promised peace and prosperity at a rally on the last day of campaigning on Friday, but attacked the opposition’s boycott call and called those who heed it “destroyers of democracy.” Hun Sen and his wife cast their ballots south of the capital shortly after polling stations opened on Sunday.
Hun Sen, 65, has said he intends to stay in power for at least two more five-year terms.
He was a member of the radical communist Khmer Rouge during its successful five-year war to topple a pro-American government, then defected to Vietnam during Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s 1975-79 genocidal regime that left nearly 2 million Cambodians dead. He became prime minister in 1985 in a Vietnamese-backed single-party communist government and led Cambodia through a civil war against the Khmer Rouge, which eased off with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords that also installed a democratic political framework.