Cambodia bans alcohol amid general election

Cambodia has a Muslim minority many of whom are from the Cham ethnic group

Cambodia has a Muslim minority many of whom are from the Cham ethnic group

Cambodians are heading to the polls Sunday in an election that will be easily won by strongman Hun Sen's ruling party after the main opposition was dissolved to global condemnation.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) said it had won 80% of the vote, giving it at least 100 of 125 seats.

Hun Sen "has stripped away the facade of democracy", said Sebastian Strangio, author of a book on Hun Sen and his decades-long rule in Cambodia.

Another polling station at a school was quiet, with a handful of voters casting their ballots in the mid-afternoon heat. In the last election in 2013, voter turnout was recorded at 69.6 percent. Earlier in the day it put the figure at 80.49 percent.

The CPP claimed 77 per cent of the popular vote, comprehensively crushing its smaller, ill-equipped rivals. In 2013, that figure was just 0.99 percent.

It was 'neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people, ' the White House said in a statement.

Over the past year, Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge general, systematically destroyed all form of political opposition, first imprisoning Kem Sokha, the co-leader of the opposition political party, the CNRP, last October on charges of treason. When the CNRP called for a voting boycott, the government retaliated with heavy-handed threats against abstainers.

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Critics have called the vote a sham as the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which narrowly lost the last election, has been dissolved. Once inside the polling booth, however, they lodged a silent objection.

"The dismantling of democracy could set a unsafe precedent for Southeast Asia as a whole, where authoritarian rulers sadly often look to each other for inspiration", ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson and member of the Malaysian Parliament, Charles Santiago, said in a statement on Sunday.

CNRP Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs Monovithya Kem told a news conference in Jakarta on Monday the party welcomed the White House statement and hoped others would follow suit. Over the past few months, the ruling party officials here have drilled into voters precisely which number to tick.

"It is a worry for us that China can ask anything from Cambodia, and we will give it to them, like we are under a remote control", said Meas Sokhen, a 29-year old air-conditioner service worker.

Former Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, who now heads the U.N. Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar investigating abuses by security forces in Rakhine state, said Indonesia as one of the world's largest democracies must "seriously address" the Cambodian situation.

She applauded those who had heeded the opposition's calls to abstain from the vote, although those numbers were not significant amid strong pressure and incentives by authorities for people to participate.

There were numerous pictures of spoilt ballots on social media on Sunday. "I've been to the USA several times, I don't need to go there anymore", he said. "Now I don't have any interest but I need to go".

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Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith confirmed to The Associated Press that the Cambodian People's Party had topped the polls.

Eng Chhay Eang, a CNRP vice president, said Prime Minister Hun Sen had organized a "fake election to kill democracy". "They know how to use their rights and how to choose their leader".

Both the US and European Union had withdrawn support for the elections ahead of Sunday, citing actions seen as limiting democracy in Cambodia, and the European Union is now reviewing a preferential trade scheme for Cambodian exports amid Hun Sen's political crackdown.

The election body said that preliminary figures indicated that voter turnout for the elections was 6,885,729 or more than 82 per cent of the total 8,380,217 registered voters in the Kingdom. In the 2017 commune elections, turnout was over 90 percent.

"July 29, 2018 marked the death of democracy in Cambodia, a dark new day in recent history", Sochua said.

Along with fracturing the political opposition, Mr. Hun Sen's government silenced critical voices in the media, shutting down about 30 radio stations and gutting two English-language newspapers that provided independent reporting.

"Given the climate of intimidation that existed prior to the election, it's hard to take these figures at face value", author of Hun Sen's Cambodia and research affiliate at the Carolina Asia Center at the University of North Carolina, Sebastian Strangio, told Asian Correspondent.

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