Cambodia's Hun Sen takes selfies in first appearance since controversial election

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, 65, whose party claimed victory in a general election that many have said was neither free nor fair, met with supporters for the first time since the vote on Wednesday.

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The former Khmer Rouge commander, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly 33 years, took ‘selfies’ with supporters and enjoyed a boat ride following Sunday’s election in which his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) said it had won all 125 parliamentary seats, prompting condemnation from rights groups and some Western nations.

Authorities launched a sweeping crackdown in the lead up to the vote targeting the opposition National Cambodia Rescue Party (CNRP), non-government organizations, rights groups activists and independent media.

As part of the crackdown, the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court last year and 118 members were banned from politics for five years.

Its leader, Kem Sokha, was jailed on treason charges in September and remains in pre-trial detention at a prison near the country’s border with Vietnam.

Mark Field, the UK’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement on Tuesday that the election was “undermined by the authorities well before campaigning started and resulted in an election that was neither fair nor credible.”

Germany, which suspended preferential visas for private travel by members of Hun Sen’s government, urged Cambodia to return to democratic principles.

“The German government has noted that the parliamentary elections in Cambodia were conducted peacefully. However, that alone is not enough to lend the election results legitimacy,” the country’s Federal Foreign Office said in a statement.

Opposition members had urged voters to boycott the election. Invalid and spoiled ballots accounted for 8.4 percent of the 7.64 million cast, representing a protest against the election, the opposition and an analyst have said.

Hun Sen did not make a lengthy speech on Wednesday, as is normally his habit. Instead, he took a boat ride to Kandal province after inaugurating a boat terminal in the capital Phnom Penh. The appearance was broadcast live on national television accompanied by music praising Hun Sen’s achievements.

The White House said it would consider steps, such as an expansion of visa restrictions placed on some government members, in response to the “flawed” elections.

The United States has imposed visa curbs on some Cambodian officials over the crackdown and levied sanctions in June on a high-ranking official close to Hun Sen.

Kem Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, said she believes further steps against Hun Sen’s regime are on the horizon.

“I believe more actions are coming,” she told Reuters in an interview.

Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Michael Perry