LONG-serving Cambodian strongman Hun Sen began another five-year term as prime minister yesterday, declaring his victory “historic”, despite accusations of rigged elections, mass protests and a boycott of parliament by the opposition.
Ruling party lawmakers renamed Hun Sen as prime minister of the south-east Asian nation in a parliamentary vote that was boycotted by the opposition. Hun Sen, who has ruled virtually unchallenged for nearly three decades, took the oath of office with fellow cabinet members in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace later in the day.
The opposition’s 55 elected lawmakers stayed away from parliament’s opening session on Monday and again yesterday over allegations that the country’s disputed July ballot was marred by fraud, while the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s 68 lawmakers renamed Hun Sen to his post.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would announce the party’s next step today, but called Hun Sen’s reappointment a “constitutional coup”.
Speaking before the half-empty National Assembly, Hun Sen displayed his characteristic confidence and dismissed allegations of cheating. “Today is a historic day for Cambodia,” he said in his acceptance speech. “The election results are a reflection of the full support we have from the majority of Cambodians.”
The 28 July vote, he added, was a “free, fair, just and transparent election”.
Hun Sen’s party performed unexpectedly weakly in the election, emerging with its poorest results in more than a decade to see its majority wither in the 123-seat National Assembly. The opposition, meanwhile, boosted its number of elected lawmakers to 55 from 29.
The result emboldened the opposition, which has staged several protests that drew tens of thousands of supporters backing its call for an independent investigation of election irregularities.
Experts say that a stronger and more vocal opposition might lead Hun Sen to make some changes in the government and small political compromises, but it is unlikely to loosen his grip on power.
“This is a huge wake-up call [for Hun Sen’s government] … and now they all acknowledge that they all need to reform,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “But the question is, are they able to reform?”
Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have held three rounds of talks this month in an effort to resolve the political deadlock. Hun Sen told reporters yesterday that he was ready to talk again – but only if opposition lawmakers take their seats in parliament.
“Before resuming negotiations, you have to first take an oath,” Hun Sen said, adding that the opposition’s decision not to attend parliament was its own and the legislature’s doors remained open.