Hun Sen set to retain power

P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, appeared set to retain power, as the election to the National Assembly passed off “smoothly” on Sunday.

State media in Phnom Penh reported the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was leading the race and the main opposition, the Sam Rainsy Party, was trailing. While the National Election Committee would announce preliminary results on Monday, the CPP expected to win a two-thirds majority in the 123-member National Assembly.

Mr. Hun Sen, at the helm for 23 years and seen as “the centre of gravity” in Cambodian politics, campaigned on his “strength” of steering the country in a “stable” manner and away from the horrific Khmer Rouge legacy.

As a nationalist leader, he sought to go the extra mile during the political campaign by asserting Cambodia’s sovereign rights in its current dispute with neighbouring Thailand over the territory surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple at the border. The Hindu-Buddhist monument, awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, was recently designated a World Heritage Site under the UNESCO auspices. And, Thai and Cambodian troops, who were rushed to the disputed area following the tension sparked by this designation, are still facing each other.

The Cambodian opposition, on the other hand, campaigned against the “endemic corruption” in official circles. Other key issues were the challenges of economic deprivation and the “delay” in bringing justice to the victims of genocide under the Khmer Rouge.

However, according to several international observers, including the Human Rights Watch, there was “no level-playing field” for the opposition and the media to challenge Mr. Hun Sen.

However, the gradual emergence of a “safe and secure environment” and the Prime Minister’s efforts at linking the Cambodian economy to that of region under the auspices of the Association of South East Asian Nations have been recognised by other observers.

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