PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s electoral body on Saturday announced the final results of last month’s election, sealing a landslide victory for the ruling party of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and a mandate for the next five years.
In an announcement on TVK state television and government social media platforms, the country’s National Election Committee said Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 120 of 125 available seats in the July 23 general election.
The royalist Funcinpec Party won five seats, while none of the other 16 political parties gained any seats.
The Cambodian People’s Party received 6,398,311 votes from a total of 8.2 million ballots cast in the popular vote. Funcinpec garnered 716,490 popular votes. There were 8.2 million paper ballots cast, including more than 7.7 million valid votes and 440,154 voided by the committee.
In a widely anticipated move, Hun Sen announced on July 27 he was stepping down at the end of the month and handing the premiership to his oldest son, Hun Manet, the country’s army chief.
The change in the Cambodian People’s Party comes after an election that Western countries and rights organizations criticized as neither free nor fair, in large part because the country’s main opposition, the Candlelight Party, was barred from the election.
The new national leader, Hun Manet, 45, won his first seat in Parliament in July’s election. The handover is part of a larger, generational shift: Many younger lawmakers are expected to take up ministerial positions, including Hun Sen’s youngest son and others related to older party members.
Many were educated in the West, like Hun Manet, who has a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, a master’s degree from New York University and a doctorate from Bristol University in Britain, all in economics.
Hun Sen, who turned 71 on Saturday, progressively tightened his grip on power during 38 years in office, making him Asia’s longest-serving leader. He also ushered in a free-market economy that raised the standards of living for many Cambodians.
Although stepping aside for his heir, Hun Sen is expected to retain a large amount of control as his party’s president and the Senate president.
“I will still have the ability to serve the interests of the people and help the government oversee the country’s security and public order, as well as joining them in guiding the development of the country,” Hun Sen said on July 27.
Hun Sen first became known as a middle-tier commander in the radical communist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, which was blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, illness and executions.
He defected to neighboring Vietnam and quickly became a senior member of the new Cambodian government when Hanoi ousted the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979 and helped bring an end to three decades of civil war.
Under Hun Sen, Cambodia moved up from a low-income country to a lower middle-income status in 2015 and expects to attain middle-income status by 2030, according to the World Bank.
Despite the overall improvement, the gap between Cambodia’s rich and poor has widened, deforestation has spread at an alarming rate and land grabs by Hun Sen’s domestic allies and foreign investors have become widespread.
After a 2013 challenge from the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party that the Cambodian People’s Party barely overcame at the polls, Hun Sen responded by going after opposition leaders, leading to the party’s eventual dissolution by the country’s sympathetic courts.
Ahead of last month’s election, the pattern of crushing any serious opposition repeated when the National Election Committee used a technicality to ban the Candlelight Party, which was the unofficial successor to the Cambodian National Rescue Party.
The European Union said the vote was “conducted in a restricted political and civic space where the opposition, civil society and the media were unable to function effectively without hindrance.”
The U.S. went a step further, saying it had taken steps to impose visa restrictions “on individuals who undermined democracy and implemented a pause of foreign assistance programs” after determining the elections were “neither free nor fair.”
At his first post-election appearance on Thursday to inaugurate the new government, Hun Sen said that following the announcement of the election committee’s final result, he planned to make the endorsement of Hun Manet as the next prime minister to King Norodom Sihamoni on Aug. 7.
Declaring Thursday’s event his last speech as prime minister, Hun Sen said the newly elected National Assembly will hold its first meeting on Aug. 21 and the following day will confirm the new leadership of the lower house and cabinet ministers.