Cambodia's ruling party wins local commune elections but new opposition gains

Cambodia's ruling party wins local commune elections but new opposition gains

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia's ruling party scored a landslide win in local commune elections although a new opposition party gained more posts than expected, official results showed on Monday.

Communes are Cambodia's lowest administrative division but the vote is viewed as a bellwether for parliamentary elections due next year. Supporters of the new Candlelight Party hailed its gains as a return to democracy, but also accused the ruling party of intimidation and cheating, which the party denied.

With nearly all votes counted, the National Election Committee (NEC) said the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had won 80% of 11,622 commune councillor positions, while the opposition Candlelight Party took 18%.

The CPP previously controlled 95% of the posts.

NEC chief Prach Chan said the turnout was 77.91 percent of 9.2 million registered voters.

The Candlelight Party largely regroups the former main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that was dissolved by a court before the last parliamentary elections. Its members and supporters are among hundreds of people who have been jailed for sedition under a widespread government crackdown.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has run the country for 37 years, and the CPP have faced international condemnation for their actions.

Son Chhay, vice president of Candlelight Party, has said it hopes to win as many local government positions as possible in the hopes of gaining representation on the national level next year.

Opposition supporter and former CNRP chief, Sam Rainsy, said on Twitter the results showed the Candlelight Party had successfully revived democracy in what has effectively been a one-party state in recent years.

"Today, thanks to the courage and intelligence of Cambodian democrats who refuse to give up their struggle, the monopoly of power exercised by Hun Sen has been broken at the local level, despite the unjust character of these communal elections," said Rainsy, who lives in exile in France.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan denied allegations made by the opposition of intimidation and cheating, saying the ruling party had won because it had "served the people well". 

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