Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's party sweeps all 125 seats in Parliament

Commuters pass the billboard of the ruling Cambodian People's Party bearing the portraits of Cambodia's strongman Premier Hun Sen (right) and National Assembly President Heng Samrin in Kandal province on Aug 15, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - Lawmakers in Cambodia's new parliament will come from only one party - the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen, the National Election Committee announced on Wednesday night (Aug 15).

In a formal statement, the election body confirmed news that had long been disclosed by the CPP soon after the July 29 general election - that it had won a clean sweep of all 125 parliamentary seats.

The controversial election took place shortly after the CPP's strongest challenger, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved by a court, its senior members banned from politics for five years, and its president detained for alleged treason.

While CNRP's political exiles urged supporters to boycott the election, the government pulled out all the stops, including ordering employers to give workers three days of paid leave, to get people to the ballot box.

In the end, 6.96 million people - or 83 per cent of registered voters - cast their ballot. But the number of invalid votes jumped from just 1.6 per cent in the 2013 general election, to 8.5 per cent, or almost 600,000, this year.

This spoilt vote figure was higher than the votes cast for even the best performing opposition parties.

The royalist Funcinpec party won 5.4 per cent, or 374,510 of all votes, cast. The 13-year-old League for Democracy Party close behind at 4.4 per cent.

In contrast, Khmer Will Party received just 3 per cent. It was formed just this year by Mr Kong Monika - whose father and brothers belong to the banned CNRP - to provide an alternative for CNRP supporters,

The CPP won more than 4.8 million votes, or some 77 per cent of the valid ballots.

While many regional countries have accepted the poll outcome, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhon early this month that the results were disappointing and noted that many of the ballots were judged to be invalid, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Both the United States and Europe have questioned the credibility of the election, and Washington has threatened to widen visa restrictions on key officials.

In Australia, which said the election "reversed more than 25 years of progress towards democracy in Cambodia", Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met Ms Kem Monovithya, the daughter of jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha, on Wednesday.

Dr Deth Sok Udom, a Phnom Penh-based academic, expects the West to have shrinking leverage on Cambodia.

"If the West pushes for more sanctions, it will drive Cambodia deeper into China's orbit; if the West doesn't follow through the threatened sanctions, Cambodia will call the West's bluff," he told The Straits Times.

Analysts expect Mr Hun Sen, who has been in power for over three decades, to ease one of his children into leadership.

His eldest son Hun Manet is the deputy commander of the armed forces. His middle son Hun Manith heads the defence ministry's powerful intelligence unit. His youngest son Hun Many is a legislator and runs the CPP's youth wing.

Dr Udom adds that CPP's victory may, on the other hand, also push it towards reform.

"There will be less formal check and balance within the parliament … CPP's legitimacy will rest entirely on its performance and ability to provide better services," he said.

"Presumably, there will be more younger, and hopefully, more technocratic appointments in the Cabinet, to sustain growth and pave the way for a smooth power transition for the younger generation of CPP leaders."

Mr Hun Sen said on Wednesday he will set up a consultation forum that will let the government gather input from all political parties, to further develop the country, the Khmer Times reported.

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