Both sides claim victory in Cambodia’s murky elections

Opposition candidate Sam Rainsy declares win at polls but Hun Sen government contests it

Cambodia was in a state of political paralysis tonight, as the country’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy claimed victory in disputed elections that appeared to show support for the incumbent – Prime Minister Hun Sen – had plummeted.

With Sunday’s election results still unofficial amid claims of widespread fraud, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party said that it had won at least 63 seats and the ruling party had won no more than 60.

The government – which also declared victory and said it would push ahead towards establishing a Cabinet – was forced to deny rumours that Prime Minister Hun Sen had fled the country after 28 years in power amid the controversy. “This is psychological warfare that ill-intentioned people always fabricate in order to poison the social atmosphere,” the government said in a statement.

Following Sunday’s poll, the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) claimed it had won 68 seats – 22 less than in 2008 elections – against 55 for the opposition.

Mr Rainsy’s party has threatened to rally its supporters to stage countrywide protests if the government does not set up a joint investigation to look into accusations of election fraud, a solution backed by the United States and the European Union. “There is a democratic change in the air in Cambodia,” said Mr Rainsy.

The ruling party rejected the proposal, denying any wrongdoing while calling for complaints to be addressed by the election commission, a body analysts say is part of the ruling party’s state apparatus.

Transparency International Cambodia (TIC), an election watchdog funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said that Cambodia’s closest election since the 1990s saw “disenfranchisement of citizens and suspect voting” as it backed the opposition’s call for an independent inquiry.

TIC monitors across Cambodia reported unregistered vehicles ferrying large groups of voters to polling stations, electoral lists missing the names of hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters and “indelible” ink that washed off all too easily, enabling multiple voting.

In polling stations in the capital Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal province, many young people turned into informal election monitors as they spoke out against violations by a government accused of massive corruption and land-grabbing in recent years.

In the prime minister’s home town of Takmau, just south of the capital, student Mao Sophorn pointed out duplicated names on electoral lists at two polling stations less than 50 metres apart.

“If the election is fair, the opposition would win,” he said after voting for the CNRP.

Pong Visko, a recent graduate working in Phnom Penh, said he didn’t even get the chance to vote. After travelling by bus for more than three hours to his hometown of Kampong Cham in central Cambodia, he said he watched his father, mother, sister and brother all cast ballots. “But they didn’t have my name,” he said.