PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s strongman premier Hun Sen looked set to extend his 28-year rule on Sunday in elections marred by allegations of widespread irregularities and the exclusion of the opposition chief.
The former Khmer Rouge fighter turned prime minister appeared so confident of victory that he did not even bother to personally campaign.
Hours after polls opened, the opposition decried what it described as the kingdom’s worst ever vote irregularities.
“The situation is more serious than at any previous election,” said Cambodian National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann.
He said many names had disappeared from the electoral roll while thousands of people could not vote as someone else had already used their ballot.
The ink used for voting could also be easily washed off, he added.
Hundreds of people protested at one polling station in eastern Prey Veng province against alleged irregularities.
But the National Election Committee (NEC) denied the accusations.
“There is no problem of names missing from the lists,” said NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha.
Even before polls opened, the opposition had warned that a Hun Sen win would be “worthless” without the participation of its leader Sam Rainsy.
The French-educated former banker returned to Cambodia on July 19 from self-imposed exile after receiving a surprise royal pardon for criminal convictions, which he contends were politically motivated.
But he is barred from running as a candidate since the authorities said it was too late to add his name to the electoral register.
Rainsy toured polling stations in the capital Phnom Penh on Sunday to “collect more evidence” of vote irregularities.
He said that if indications pointed to a “plot to rig the election” then “definitely we will protest.”
The CNRP said earlier that it had uncovered irregularities such as tens of thousands of duplicated voter names that would allow some people to cast ballots twice.
Local poll monitor the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia alleged that up to 1.25 million people who are eligible to cast ballots are not on the voter lists.