Cambodians vote as new opposition party seeks gains

·2 min read

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodians voted in local elections on Sunday as a reborn opposition movement sought to mount a challenge to the party of longtime leader Hun Sen.

Authorities under the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) have in recent years moved to crush dissent, with more than 100 opposition members jailed under charges including treason, prompting international criticism of Hun Sen, who has ruled for 37 years.

Full results were expected on Monday, but partial tallies late on Sunday showed the new Candlelight Party ahead in just four of 1,652 communes voting, with the CPP leading in the rest, according to the National Election Commission's website.

The Candlelight Party largely regroups the former main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party that was dissolved by a court ahead of the last national elections.

Lines of people queued in polling stations amid heightened security before polls closed at 3 p.m.(0800 GMT) on Sunday.

"For our local governance, we want commune chiefs who don't oppress people and treat people well," said voter Chum Phivoat, 39, as he took a selfie with his black-inked finger as a proof of his vote.

Few voters would say which party they supported.

"I just want peace and that Cambodia is forever peaceful. I want commune authorities that make my life easy, so that I can have the ability to pay off debt,” said voter Long Savun, 67,

The United Nations human rights representative accused the authorities of suppressing the opposition in the election.

"We are disturbed by the pattern of threats, intimidation and obstruction targeting opposition candidates," UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Liz Throssell said in a statement before the vote.

About 9.2 million voters were registered to vote for 11,622 councillors and chiefs in 1,652 communes and sub-districts across the country.

Many see the commune elections as a bellwether for national elections due next year.

(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Kay Johnson, William Mallard and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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