The deadlock over Cambodia’s disputed election hardened today as the opposition rejected official results confirming a victory for prime minister Hun Sen’s long-ruling party and raised the prospect of further street protests.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said it would not accept the latest results because the government had failed to address its allegations of widespread cheating, and called on the international community not to recognise the outcome.
The crisis over the July 28th election is Hun Sen's biggest political challenge in two decades and threatens to destabilise the small, fast-growing Southeast Asian nation that has built strong economic and political ties with China in recent years.
The National Election Committee (NEC) - a state body seen as dominated by Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) - announced official results earlier today showing the CPP won a majority of votes in 19 of Cambodia's 24 provinces.
That was broadly in line with preliminary results that the CPP said gave it 68 seats in parliament to the 55 seats won by the CNRP, a hefty loss of 22 seats for the ruling party.
The NEC did not say when it would release final results for seats in parliament. The CNRP has claimed victory, saying it won 63 seats in the 123-seat parliament.
"We are disappointed and reject this result," Kem Sokha, the deputy head of CNRP, told a news conference in Phnom Penh.
“The National Election Committee is responsible for any possible uprising or protest by people who are voters and want justice.”
Even by the government's own figures, the vote was Hun Sen's worst election result since Cambodia returned to full democracy in 1998 after decades of war and turmoil that included the 1975-79 "Killing Fields" rule of the Khmer Rouge.
The election revealed widespread unhappiness with his iron-fisted rule over issues such as land rights and rising inequality, despite rapid economic growth.
The CNRP is trying to capitalise on that while emotion still runs high, especially among younger Cambodians eager for change.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who returned from exile to galvanise the campaign of the newly merged opposition for the election, has already said he should be prime minister.
Sam Rainsy left the country again last week to attend his daughter's wedding in the United States but is expected to return this week.
Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the capital Phnom Penh last week demanding an international inquiry into the election. Further opposition protests in reaction to the official results could push tensions higher still, but Kem Sokha said more rallies would only be held as a last resort.
On Thursday, the government deployed armoured personnel carriers and soldiers in Phnom Penh as a precaution ahead of possible protests. Kem Sokha called on the government to stop further military deployments, which he said were unnecessary and risked raising tensions further.
The CNRP claims that 1.3 million names were missing from electoral rolls and that Hun Sen’s side had stuffed ballot boxes with illegal votes.
The allegations are being investigated by the NEC.
The United States and European Union have expressed concern about irregularities in the election but both have said an investigation should be conducted by Cambodian authorities.