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Big opposition gains in Cambodia

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has been returned to government, but only narrowly. A much-strengthened opposition will now be well placed to demand institutional change.

I’m busy with other things this morning, but it would be remiss not to report quickly that Cambodia’s general election (previewed here) has been won by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party with a much reduced majority. On preliminary results the opposition has almost doubled its tally of seats, winning 55 to the government’s 68.

Cambodia now has very much a two-party system, a development that has been in train for the last few elections. The royalist party FUNCINPEC, once the largest party and more recently a junior partner in government, lost its two remaining seats, and what had been two separate opposition parties – the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, with 26 and three seats respectively – have merged to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The national election committee doesn’t appear to have posted any results yet on its website, but both local and international media are reporting the preliminary numbers. The Phnom Penh Post has a nice map of the seats won by region.

The only report of the vote totals that I can find is on Wikipedia, so I don’t know where they’re from, but for what it’s worth they show the CPP dropping by about 8.8% and the opposition up more than 15% on its combined 2008 vote.

There have been claims of a variety of irregularities, including that the indelible ink used to stop people voting twice was easy to wash off (this is a favorite of disappointed oppositions across the world). While Cambodia’s electoral administration is clearly not world’s best practice, the reports do not suggest the sort of widespread fraud or intimidation that would call the basic fairness of the result into question.

This is a big electoral setback for prime minister Hun Sen, but (as is the way of these things) it also strengthens his claim that Cambodia really is a democracy. A senior government MP, Chheang Vun, was quoted making that point but also admitting that “we will have to make some reforms, review and work harder.” The test will be whether the CPP takes that message to heart.

The real unfairness in Cambodia is not the result of problems with the indelible ink, but of the country being run as the personal property of Hun Sen and his cronies. Yesterday’s poll has given the opposition a serious platform to demand change.

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