Cambodia opposition says to win majority in local, national vote

Prey Veng (Reuters) - Cambodia’s opposition leader on Sunday said his party will secure a majority win in a local election next month and a general election next year, pointing to a stronger, more united opposition to challenge the rule of veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen.

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Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said in an interview that the party hopes to win 60 percent of the votes in the June 4 commune elections, which are seen as a barometer of a general election in 2018.

The CNRP expects to win 70 percent of the 123 parliamentary seats in the 2018 national election, he said.

The hotly anticipated national election could extend the more than 30 year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) or make way for a new era of leadership by the CNRP in Cambodia - one of Asia’s poorest countries.

The June 4 local election is seen as the biggest challenge Hun Sen’s ruling party has faced in nearly four decades after his party narrowly won the last election in 2013 after losing seats to a resurgent opposition - Hun Sen’s worst election result since Cambodia returned to full democracy in 1998.

“The support for the CNRP has been stronger than at any other time, both in the city and in rural areas,” Kem Sokha told Reuters in an interview after rallies attended by thousands of supporters in Prey Veng province in the southeast.

Kem Sokha said that the party is now more united than before despite the resignation of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives abroad to avoid jail on a defamation conviction.

Sam Rainsy said he quit because he feared a government attempt to ban the opposition party.

“Some people think that without Sam Rainsy the CNRP would be divided,” Kem Sokha told Reuters. “It has become stronger and we work on the same goals and principles,” he said, adding that Sam Rainsy would return to Cambodia once the party is in power.

“They have run for five mandates and they have never won,” CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said of the opposition. “They are just consoling themselves with their predictions.”

Tension between Hun Sen and Kem Sokha has risen just days before the commune election with Hun Sen repeating his warning of a war if his party loses the elections.

Rights groups have accused Hun Sen of using political violence, repression and corruption to remain in power.

Kem Sokha said that the government’s intimidation tactics won’t influence voters who support the CNRP.

“Are people afraid? No, they are not afraid,” he said.

Hun Sen’s CPP has also said that it will win 60 percent of the vote next month.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre