PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodians voted in local polls yesterday as a revived opposition party attempted to dent Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decades-long grip on power ahead of national elections next year.
Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, has ruled Cambodia for more than 37 years and turned the country into a one-party state in 2018 when his party won every seat in a national election.
Voting shortly after polls opened at 7am, the prime minister was all smiles as he entered a school polling station on Phnom Penh’s outskirts with his wife Bun Rany – but declined to speak to media.
Critics and rights groups have accused him of creating a climate of fear by locking up scores of political opponents and activists.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – which won 44 per cent of the popular vote in local elections in 2017 – was forced to forfeit its positions after a court dissolved it later that year.
Scores of opposition figures have since fled the country, while others have been arrested.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was arrested and jailed for more than a year, is facing a treason trial, while CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy is living in France to escape convictions he said are politically motivated.
Yetserday’s vote in 1,652 communes, or village clusters, will take the country’s political pulse ahead of the national elections in 2023.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) made a show of strength in Phnom Penh on Friday with a massive parade of cars, trucks, motorcycles and tuk-tuks.
And many voters appeared persuaded – citing peace and development in the country as they cast their ballot for his party inside schools or temples.
“I picked the same old candidate, I did not change. We have been working together since the beginning, so we know who is good and who is bad,” 76-year-old Srey Chan Samuth said.