PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen took nearly 60 percent of the vote in weekend polls, election officials said Monday, but the opposition rejected his win and demanded a new balloting.
The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 59.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, compared with nearly 21 percent for the nearest rival, the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, electoral authorities said.
The National Election Committee said turnout was 74.5 percent, but it did not say how many parliamentary seats each party had won.
The CPP claimed it would scoop 90 of the 123 seats in parliament, with Sam Rainsy and three other small parties dividing the rest.
"This is a new victory for the CPP and for CPP's policies for the past five years," party spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP.
The four minority parties rejected the outcome, accusing the CPP of fiddling with the voter rolls to ensure their victory.
"We call on the international community not to recognise the results because there were a lot of irregularities," longtime government critic Kem Sokha, leader of the upstart Human Rights Party, told reporters.
Kem Sokha said the four parties would consider forming a coalition party to challenge the CPP.
"We have decided to join forces to struggle with the Cambodian people to demand a re-run of the election in Cambodia," said main opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
The royalist Funcinpec and Norodom Ranariddh Party also signed a statement accusing the government of rigging the rolls.
"The main illegal and fraudulent practises are related to the deletion of countless voters' names and an artificial increase in the CPP votes," the statement said.
Local observers have confirmed that some voters were turned away from polling stations after their names disappeared from the rolls, but they cast doubt on whether the problem was as widespread as the opposition claims.
Still, the Comfrel group of election observers said they could not pronounce the vote free and fair until the claims were investigated.
"It is too early to say this was a free and fair election. We need to have more information, especially on the voter's lists which is a very big problem," Comfrel official Thun Saray told reporters.
He also lamented the drop in voter turnout, which had reached 83 percent in the last general election in 2003.
Thun Saray blamed the fall on a lack of confidence in the political parties, problems with the voter rolls, and rising fuel costs that made transportation too costly for voters to return to their hometowns to cast ballots.
He also warned that if the CPP's large victory is confirmed, the result could undermine Cambodia's fledgling democracy.
"There will be no more checks and balances in the national assembly," he said. "That is our big challenge."
At 55, Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 23 years. He has vowed to remain in power until he is 90, relentlessly undercutting his political rivals and resorting to street violence to put down political challenges.
Hun Sen had been widely tipped to win due to a booming economy that has helped improve the quality of life in one of the world's poorest nations, and due to nationalist sentiment sparked by a border feud with Thailand.
He was so confident of victory that his government on Monday launched a new round of border talks with Thailand, even before his re-election has been confirmed.
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