PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Voters surfed the polls in Cambodia on Sunday. It is expected that Prime Minister Hun Sen will easily win after the dissolution of the largest opposition party and the government and will extend its more than 30-year term.
The Cambodian Prime Minister and President of the Cambodian People's Party (KPP) Hun Sen castes his vote while his wife, Bun Rany, stands beside him during a general election in Takhmao, Kandal Province, Cambodia on July 29, 201
Hun Sen's opponents have called for an election boycott, saying that without real opposition to the government, the election will be a farce.
Nineteen political parties are running against Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), but none are keen on the prime minister or the government.
Ros Vireak, 34, came from a polling booth in the city center of Phnom Penh, where 12 parliamentary seats can be found. His finger is stained in ink to show that he has chosen.
"I see no problem with this election, as a citizen I have fulfilled my electives," said Ros Vireak. He declined to say for whom he chose.
The election is not compulsory, but the authorities have warned that anyone who boycotted the vote is considered a "traitor."
Critics say that the election implies the decimation of democracy in the following Southeast Asian country months of intimidation by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the dissolution of Cambodia's largest opposition party National Rescue Party (CNRP) last year through the Supreme Court.
Many CNRP leaders have fled abroad and live in self-imposed exile, and their leader, Kem Sokha, was charged with treason in September.
Just two days before the election, the authorities shut down the websites of some independent media.
Canada's ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, Donica Pottie, said on Twitter that Cambodia had entered a "new period of one-party rule".
"Early in the morning, election day in Cambodia, I feel today the end of the promise of the peace agreement 25 years ago and the new period of one-party rule," she wrote.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said many voters would reluctantly vote.
"Fear and the need to survive are as important as anything one of the parties had to say during the election campaign," Robertson told Reuters in an email.
In the Takhmao Township of Kandal Province, about nine kilometers from the capital, Phnom Penh, Hun Sen, accompanied by his wife, dropped his voice and showed an ink. Stained index finger to collected media. He declined to talk to reporters.
Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who eventually seceded from Pol Pot's murderous regime, is the world's longest-serving prime minister.
The opposition CNRP, which appeals to younger voters and voters, has narrowly lost the last parliamentary elections in 2013.
The government insists that the 2018 vote will be free and fair. "This election is about the will and power of the Cambodian people," said government spokesman Phay Siphan in an interview. "People are very determined to preserve peace and stability."
The CPP has called on people to vote, despite calls from CNRP leaders to boycott the election. Low voter turnout could undermine the legitimacy of the CPP.
About 8 million people are enrolled for election, and the electoral commission expects a turnout of 60 percent, well below the 70 percent rate of the 2013 parliamentary elections.
The National Electoral Committee will announce preliminary results on Sunday evening. Official results are expected in mid-August.
Additional coverage by Juarawee Kittisilpa in TAKHMAO and Tom Allard in PHNOM PENH; Letter from Amy Sawitta Lefevre to PHNOM PENH; Edited by Sandra Maler, Richard Chang and Michael Perry