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Monday, July 28, 2008

Cambodia's Ruling Party Claims Victory

Cambodia's Ruling Party Claims Victory

By Lisa Murray in Phnom Penh

Published: July 28 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 28 2008 03:00

The Cambodian People's party, buoyed by a decade of political stability and strong economic growth, claimed victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections, extending Hun Sen's 23-year reign as prime minister.

The CPP said late last night that it had won almost two-thirds of the national assembly's 123 seats. However, it looks set to face a stronger and more unified opposition after early reports indicated that its main rival, the Sam Rainsy party, had made significant gains.

Yesterday's parliamentary elections were the fourth since the UN brokered a peace deal be-tween Cambodia's Vietnamese-backed government and the Khmer Rouge in 1991.

A constitutional change means the CPP no longer requires a two-thirds majority to form a government and therefore will not have to seek the support of a coalition partner.

A spokesman for election monitoring group Comfrel said early results showed the SRP could have won as many as 40 seats, at the expense of the royalist Funcinpec party. Official results are expected this week.

A strong economy and the national sentiment stirred up by the recent border dispute with Thailand underpinned support for the CPP, in spite of anger at rampant corruption.

Many voters cited the strong economy as the chief reason behind their vote for the party. Solid tourism, -garment and construction sectors have underpinned average annual economic growth of 9.5 per cent since 2000.

"People have noted a tangible improvement in their lives over the last five years," said Douglas Clayton, managing partner of Leopard Capital, an investment group in Cambodia.

While observers said the election was generally free and fair, they expressed concern about media bias and allegations of political violence and vote buying.

A journalist for an opposition party-backed newspaper and his son were shot and killed this month. The US embassy offered the resources of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the case, an offer that has so far been ignored.

"It's very worrying because it contributed to a climate of fear among journalists," said Martin Callanan, a member of the European parliament and the EU's chief observer. "There is already a heavy bias towards the CPP in the media."

Mr Callanan said his team was also concerned that 50,000 names were missing from voter lists.

Sam Rainsy, SRP leader, called for a recount after he claimed 200,000 names were left off the lists in the capital city alone, accounting for a quarter of its voters.

So far there is no evidence to suggest these names were scrat-ched for political reasons.

The SRP has attracted strong support among the urban elite for its anticorruption drive.

The royalist Funcinpec, which won the majority of votes in Cambodia's first election in 1993, looks to have lost most of its seats.

It was previously led by Hun Sen rival Prince Norodom Ranariddh but he was ousted in an internal coup, and set up his own party.

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