Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET on 2013-7-29
Cambodia's main opposition party has rejected the initial national election results provided by Prime Minister Hun Sen's party, saying it was robbed of a victory and citing poll irregularities that it wants investigated by an independent committee that includes the U.N. and nongovernmental groups.
"In order to deliver justice to the voters, we don’t recognize the election results,” Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), declared a day after the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) claimed it had won the election by a much-reduced majority and with the CNRP chalking up impressive gains.
The National Election Committee (NEC), which manages Cambodia's elections, has not provided the official results, saying it will release them only after all complaints are investigated in a satisfactory manner.
The CPP had announced, citing initial unofficial results, that it had won 68 seats of the 123 seats at stake in the National Assembly, the country's parliament.
These were far fewer than the 90 seats the CPP had held before the polls, one of the most closely fought in recent years and marred by allegations of widespread irregularities.
It is among the worst election results suffered by Hun Sen's party since Cambodia returned to democracy 20 years ago when the United Nations organized the historic 1993 poll after decades of conflict.
The CNRP, which had previously held 29 seats, nearly doubled its haul to 55 seats in this election, based on the CPP-announced results.
Both parties have dismissed the possibility of working towards a coalition government.
The CNRP could have won the election if not for a range of election irregularities, said Sam Rainsy, whose return on the eve of polls from a four-year self-exile in France gave a much-needed boost to the opposition campaign.
He wants the government to establish an independent committee among representatives from the CPP, CNRP, the United Nations, the NEC, and nongovernmental organizations "in order to identify all serious election irregularities and assess their impact on the election results."
"On the basis of the investigation committee’s findings and recommendations, political leaders from both sides will find ways and means to strengthen democracy and to redress the injustice done to the Cambodian people whose will has been distorted for too long," he said.
The United States said it was also concerned by "numerous reported irregularities" in the Cambodian electoral process and called for a full and open probe.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Washington had long called on Hun Sen's government "to address systemic flaws such as problems in the voter registry and unequal access to the media."
"We call for a transparent and full investigation of all credible reports of irregularities," she said.
The CNRP claims that more than one million names had been removed from the voter lists, with a similar number of "phantom" voters added to them along with what it calls the duplication of about 200,000 names.
"There were 1.2 million to 1.3 million people whose names were missing and could not vote. There were 'ghost' voters [names on paper only]," said Sam Rainsy, whose return home about two weeks before the polls was facilitated by a royal pardon for politicized criminal charges that got him a 11-year jail sentence.
Despite his pardon, the NEC prevented him from voting or contesting in the elections, saying it was too late for him to re-register as a voter as his name had been removed from the voters list following his convictions.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha urged voters to remain calm to "maintain social stability."
“We urge all people to remain calm," he told RFA's Khmer Service. "If the government doesn’t want to provoke any problem, they must agree to establish an [investigation] committee so that voters will remain calm."
He said the NEC, which the opposition claims is a tool of Hun Sen's administration, "cannot investigate the irregularities alone.”
The NEC meanwhile rejected the possibility of it joining any investigations on poll irregularities as suggested by Sam Rainsy.
"The NEC would not participate in the committee which CNRP wants to have to investigate the irregularities," its secretary-general, Tep Nytha, said.
The CPP said Monday that it would go ahead and form the government once the NEC confirms its result but acknowledged the CNRP's right to disregard the results.
“We are the winning party. We will respond to the people’s will,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said.
The CNRP's rejection of the results may plunge Cambodia into post-election instability, which has occurred several times since the 1993 landmark elections.
Hun Sen, poised to enter his 29th year in power as Southeast Asia's longest-serving government leader, has yet to react to the initial results and the loss of his party's key two-thirds majority in the assembly, which enabled it to make constitutional amendments.
The 60-year-old Hun Sen, who did not even bother to campaign in the election based on his confidence of a sweeping CPP victory, has faced persistent accusations of trampling on human rights and silencing political dissent.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Semean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.