>Cambodia opens election campaign

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is greeted by supporters during an election rally in Phnom Penh June 26, 2008. Cambodia are due to hold a general election on July 27.

REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s political parties kicked off campaigning Thursday for next month’s general election, which is almost certain to see the return to power of Asia’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Eleven parties are contesting the July 27 polls for the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a government for the next five years.

Hun Sen’s long-running control over the levers of state and his unmatchable political instincts all but ensure that he will lead a return of his Cambodian People’s Party to office.

Hun Sen, once a member of the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge, has been at the helm of Cambodia since 1985, when he was made prime minister of a communist government installed by neighboring Vietnam. He became an elected prime minister in a democratic vote only after his party won an 1998 election. His party has tightened its grip on power since then, with 73 seats in the National Assembly.

They “must have self-confidence in deciding to choose the political party of their liking without any coercion, pressure and intimidation,” Hun Sen said in statement Tuesday. He has in the past been accused of using strong-arm tactics against political foes.

Challengers include Sam Rainsy, the outspoken opposition leader who heads his self-named Sam Rainsy Party. The party, which currently holds 24 seats in the National Assembly, has constantly accused Hun Sen’s government of corruption, human rights abuses and mismanagement of natural resources.

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