August 15, 2018 / 1:20 PM / 4 months ago

Cambodia's ruling party won all seats in July vote: election commission

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 parliamentary seats in a national election in July, electoral authorities said on Wednesday as the opposition called the result illegitimate.

Supporters take pictures with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) as he attends an inauguration of a new boat terminal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Within hours of the National Election Committee (NEC) announcement, the United States said it was expanding visa restrictions on individuals responsible for “anti-democratic” actions in the run-up to the July 29 vote.

Rights groups say the poll vote was neither free nor fair given the absence of a significant challenger to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for more than three decades.

NEC spokesman Dim Sovannarom told Reuters the CPP won all seats and took 4.8 million of 6.9 million votes.

The only viable opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved last year by the Supreme Court and 118 of its members were banned from politics for five years.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was jailed on treason charges in September. He remains in pre-trial detention.

Authorities also launched a sweeping crackdown in the lead-up to the vote targeting non-governmental organizations, rights groups and independent media.

The CPP eventually contested the ballot along with 19 other parties, none of which were particularly critical of the government. The royalist Funcinpec party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, once Hun Sen’s main rival but now aligned with him, came second with 374,510 votes.

Mu Sochua, CNRP’s vice president who lives in self-imposed exile abroad, called the new members of parliament illegitimate.

“The CPP is leading the nation to a one-party state with one man making all decisions for the entire nation through a sham election rejected by democratically elected governments,” she told Reuters.

“Sham elections cannot produce a legitimate National Assembly.”

Voter turnout was 83 percent, the NEC said in a separate statement on Wednesday, up from 69.6 percent in the previous election in 2013.

‘FLAWED’ POLL

The CPP was banking on a high voter turnout to bestow a veneer of legitimacy on the election which many, including the United Nations and some Western countries, had criticized.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the poll was “flawed” and “neither free nor fair”.

She said expanded visa restrictions may apply to individuals inside and outside the government “responsible for the most notable anti-democratic actions” in the run-up to the election and in certain circumstances to their immediate relatives.

“We reiterate our call for the Cambodian government to take tangible actions to promote national reconciliation by allowing independent media and civil society organizations to fulfill their vital roles,” she said.

Nauert repeated U.S. calls for the release of Kem Sokha and other political prisoners and for an end to a ban on the political opposition.

However, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his congratulations to Hun Sen, saying that Cambodia has achieved political stability, fast economic growth and remarkable success under his leadership.

“We believe that the Cambodian People’s Party will continue to unite and lead the Cambodian people to pursue a development path that suits its own national reality,” Xi said, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.

Former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, in exile in France since 2015, accused the NEC of “artificially inflating voter turnout” and being under the ruling party’s control.

“The NEC was able to play all sorts of tricks because, after the forceful dissolution of the CNRP, the election body was placed under the absolute control of the CPP,” he said in an emailed statement.

Sovannarom rejected the accusations.

Following the official result, Hun Sen thanked his supporters in a message posted on Facebook. “People have decided to choose peace, development and continue to democracy in the country,” he said.

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by John Stonestreet and James Dalgleish

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