>Election win fuels fears for Cambodian democracy

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his vote at a polling station in a Phnom Penh suburb on July 27. Despite improvements in electoral processes, Cambodia’s recent election was flawed and did not meet key standards, international monitors have said.

(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The landslide election victory of Cambodia’s ruling party puts the country under one party-rule and risks damaging its fragile democracy, rights groups said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party claims it swept 90 of 123 seats in last weekend’s parliamentary elections.

The result is expected to usher Hun Sen, who has ruled for 23 years, to a new 5-year term and give his party total domination of the lower house — a result that human rights groups are calling dangerous for democracy.

“We have long feared that the country was heading toward becoming a one-party rule,” said Thun Saray, a prominent human rights activist and head of election monitoring group Comfrel. “The election results are only confirming our fears. The power of the ruling party is now so great that no one can challenge it.”

Cheam Yeap, a senior ruling party member, dismissed the criticism, saying his party is not a “dictatorship.”

The ruling party will use its victory to strengthen, not weaken, democracy and the rule of law “to win more support and trust from the people.”

Official results from the election are expected later this week. But few dispute the tally issued by the CPP, which appears to have cemented a two-thirds majority in the lower house and increased its presence from the 73 seats it held in the outgoing chamber.

Hun Sen’s government has often been accused of corruption, human rights abuses, curtailing people’s rights to peaceful protests and forcibly evicting poor citizens off their land so that it can be used for commercial development. The government has dismissed the accusations.

Independent Cambodian election monitoring groups say the opposition Sam Rainsy Party appears to have won 26 seats — a two-seat gain from the 2003 polls — and back the ruling party’s tally of 90 for the ruling CPP.

Hun Sen has been at the center of Cambodian politics since 1985, when he became the world’s youngest prime minister at age 33. He has held or shared the top job ever since, bullying and outfoxing his opponents to stay in power.

Sunday’s voting was the fourth parliamentary election since the United Nations brokered a peace deal for the country in 1991, a process meant to end decades of civil unrest that included the 1975-79 genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Martin Callanan, the head of an EU election monitoring team, said Tuesday that the elections fell short of international standards because of biases in favor of the ruling party. But he said alleged vote irregularities would have to be on a very large scale to invalidate the result, which is that Hun Sen’s party “clearly has a very large majority.”

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