Critics have described the election as the least free and fair in decades due to the exclusion of the main opposition party.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia Voting is taking place in Cambodia’s national elections, where Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected to win an easy victory in what critics say is the least free and fair election in decades.
Voting began at 7 am (00:00 GMT) on Sunday morning for some 9.7 million people registered to vote in the country of about 16 million people.
Besides the incumbent and long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party, 17 minor parties are also contesting the election, though none have the popular support to offer a serious challenge to Hun Sen’s decades-old autocratic leadership. His party is expected to retain all 125 seats in the country’s National Assembly.
The opposition’s only credible rival – the Candlelight Party – was excluded from participating in the vote due to a registration technique in May, which critics slammed as another example of Hun Sen’s flattening of democratic participation in the country.
Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rani, cast their ballots shortly after polling stations opened in Thakhmao, south of the capital, on Sunday morning where one of the prime minister’s residences is located.
As the longest elected leader in Asia, Hun Sen has consolidated his power in Cambodia over the past 38 years. It is expected that this electoral victory will pave the way for him to transfer power to his son Hun Maneh, commander of the Cambodian army.
Opponents and human rights groups criticized the election for a lack of credible competition as well as Hun Sen’s forceful tactics that silenced all opposition to his rule.
Opposition supporters were arrested in the run-up to the vote for allegedly encouraging the spoiling of ballot papers in protest of the individual electoral race, while internet service providers were ordered to block access to the websites of several independent news and media outlets.
Ahead of the vote, which runs until 3pm local time (08:00 GMT) on Sunday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said an “expected outcome” could be expected from an “illegal process”.
The FIDH said the vote was set to reflect the country’s last national election in 2018 when the then-popular Cambodian National Rescue Party was banned from politics, allowing Hun Sen to win all seats in parliament.
While Hun Sen focused on securing the succession to power for his son, Cambodia saw an “alarming increase in human rights and election abuses,” according to the organization.
“The stage has been set for completely illegitimate elections,” said the International Federation for Human Rights.
Voting appeared to start slowly in the capital, Phnom Penh, but picked up pace later in the morning, though some residents said polling stations appeared quieter compared to previous elections.
Voter Te Yumao, 50, said the election had gone more smoothly without the main opposition.
“When there is opposition, it is chaotic and causes problems,” he said.
A 37-year-old taxi driver said he “loved” Cambodia’s now-banned opposition party and its leaders, but feared the government’s repercussions if he did not vote, adding that he believed the authorities had ways of detecting how people voted.
“I’m very concerned about them saying they can see our vote afterward,” he said, shortly after casting his vote.
We know the situation. We know the truth. “But we can’t talk,” he told Al Jazeera, asking not to be named because he feared the consequences of speaking with reporters.
Hun Sen’s succession
A 44-year-old voter in Phnom Penh, who asked that her name not be used to protect her identity, told Al Jazeera she was unhappy with the lack of competition in the election.
But she said she was looking forward to Hun Sen stepping aside to allow his son, Hun Mane, to take over as prime minister.
“I just know that this year, it will be the son who takes power,” the woman said, adding that she hoped the new prime minister would focus on the economy and the poor.
Hun Maneh, who graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and holds a PhD from a university in the UK, quickly rose through the Cambodian military ranks and became a major of the army in 2018.
He is running for the first time on Sunday as a member of the National Assembly.
While some see the father-to-son handover of power as heralding a new beginning in Cambodia, others suspect Hun Sen is ready to cede control entirely to his son.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the American think tank Council on Foreign RelationsHe said that the planned succession was not universally supported in Cambodia’s power structures.
“Hun Maneh is supposed to be Hun Sen’s successor, though dynastic succession is not easy, and there are many powerful Cambodians who oppose the move,” Korlantzik wrote earlier this month.
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