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In Cambodia, Hun Sen's CPP assured of a victory at the polls

special envoy to Phnom Penh.

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In Cambodia, Hun Sen's CPP assured of a victory at the polls

special envoy to Phnom Penh

He paid for a walkabout. At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, Hun Manet, the eldest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, cast his ballot in the ballot box, surrounded by dozens of journalists and supporters. Under the trees of Tuol Kork Primary School, in the new districts of Phnom Penh, they came in large numbers to see the very likely next Prime Minister of the Southeast Asian constitutional monarchy.

“I wanted to see it for real, I had never seen it before. I hope he will be a good ruler, even better than his father! », Enthuses a voter after having exchanged a few words with the deputy-candidate. “He is young, gifted and educated. When he is in business, I think he will be a good leader: he has the ability to continue the development of Cambodia,” adds a 22-year-old a few meters away. His bluish finger in electoral ink indicates that he has just deposited his ballot in the ballot box. "It's the first time," he said. I hadn't been able to vote five years ago, but this year I didn't want to miss the opportunity to exercise my obligation as a citizen."

If Hun Manet is not the official candidate of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), in power, for the post of Prime Minister, he is indeed on everyone's mind on this Sunday, July 23, when the country of 16 million inhabitants organizes its 7th legislative election since the end of the civil war in 1991. It is the first time that the 45-year-old man, a 4-star general in the Cambodian army, has presented as a deputy. And his candidacy is closely scrutinized: his election to the lower house of Parliament, almost assured, would mark the first stage of a nepotic transition of power planned for a long time by his indestructible father, at the head of the government for 38 years.

Until now, the timetable for this announced hereditary transfer had remained unclear. But in an interview with Chinese media Phoenix TV late last week, Hun Sen conceded that his son could take over the government "in 3 or 4 weeks" depending on "what the people want" in the election. But the sky-blue tidal wave of the CPP is beyond doubt: for the second time in a row, the general election was held in the absence of opposition. In May, the only credible competitor to Hun Sen, the Candle Party, was eliminated from the race by the Electoral Commission, close to the government.

Five years earlier, the party led by Cambodia's strongman won all seats in the National Assembly after the previous opposition force, the National Rescue Party of Cambodia (CNRP), was dissolved by the Supreme Court a few months earlier.

Sunday evening, even before the announcement of the first provisional results, the spokesman of the PPC congratulated the party on its “crushing victory”. According to estimates available at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. French time), the ruling party is credited with 82.4% of the vote and FUNCIPEC, the royalist party, with 9%. The latter could therefore win a meager portion of the 125 seats at stake. The participation rate has soared to 84.58%, the highest for 20 years.

But the real metric to watch, capable of undermining some of the legitimacy of the next government, was the rate of blank and invalid ballots. In 2018, in response to the disbandment of the PSNC, these votes of discontent were actually the second largest political force in the country, garnering more votes than the party that came second at the polls. This year, the impression of anti-democratic deja vu has prompted some young people to turn away from the system, thus leaving official statistics. While the NEC anticipated nearly 11 million people on the electoral lists, only 9.7 million registered.

" What's the point ? Whether we vote or not, the same party wins every time,” says Phirith who, at 23, has never known political alternation. This freelance designer has never voted, despite being "interested in politics". "But neither party puts their finger on the real issues: lack of medical coverage, corruption, environmental issues... I'm waiting to see what the new government comes up with." The ministers should be younger, maybe they will listen to us,” he breathes.

Only the future will tell. But Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, only half-believes: “Certainly, the rising generation is better than the political old guard at communicating with the youth. But deep down, it will be difficult for them to really understand the life of the average Cambodian because they were all brought up with important privileges”.

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