Hun Sen rides temple to victory

The border dispute with Thailand has fuelled nationalist sentiment, ensuring victory in the Cambodian national elections for Prime Minister Hun Sen, the former Khmer Rouge leader who has ruled for 23 years.

Phnom Penh (Agencies) - The ruling Cambodian People's Party on Sunday claimed victory in general elections, setting the stage for Prime Minister Hun Sen to extend his 23-year grip on power.

"We won the election," party spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. "We are leading in most of the provinces."

He added that the party was not yet sure of its margin of victory, as ballots were still being counted.

Earlier report:

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Polls closed in Cambodia at 3 pm on Sunday in national elections with no immediate reports of violence, but an immediate complaint of irregularities by the opposition.

"There were a lot of problems with voters unable to find their names. We were expecting a landslide victory but now we are going to complain," a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party said.

However the monolithic Cambodian People's Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen and structured on a Communist model, was expected by analysts and the party's own pollsters to win handsomely - a result that looked affirmed in early counts.

An estimated 8 million voters were registered to vote in the first national elections in five years.

The National Election Committee (NEC) said Saturday these elections were the most peaceful and least violent since democratic polls recommenced after the Khmer Rouge era in 1993. Cambodian elections have previously been marred by violence.

A tense border stand-off with Thailand which has seen troops mobilized is not expected to unduly influence the outcome, although analysts predicted it may increase voter turnout.

The lack of impact of the border dispute over an ancient temple and surrounding land is because despite nationalistic sentiment running high, Cambodian political parties typically register partisan supporters months or even years in advance.

"If you are Khmer, you love your country no matter what party you support, so people are not going to change their vote because of the border dispute," NEC spokesman Em Sopath said Saturday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party is expected to further increase its dominance, with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, the royalist Funcinpec party, the Human Rights Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party expected to vie for the remaining seats.

The Cambodian People's Party, boasting 5 million members, currently holds 73 of the 123 parliamentary seats and conservatively predicted it could snare 80 seats Sunday.

Funcinpec currently holds 26 seats, and the Sam Rainsy Party 24.

Hun Sen has ruled for 23 years, but is enjoying a new surge in popularity due to Cambodia's rapid economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund placed at around 10.5 per cent in 2007.

Bangkok Post