Official results have been released from Cambodia's general elections. As expected, the ruling party won, but fell short of a governing majority. The real politicking for forming a government now begins.
The results announced Friday by the National Election Committee held no real surprises.
Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian Peoples' Party, or CPP, was in first place with just over 47 percent of the popular vote. The Sam Rainsy Party was second with nearly 22 percent, and the royalist party known as Funcinpec came in third with just under 21 percent. A smattering of small parties picked up the remaining votes.
But Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party are rejecting those tallies - at least for now. Speaking to VOA by telephone from Phnom Penh, Sam Rainsy reiterated the allegation of serious cheating in the election.
"The opposition rejected this morning this result that we consider totally unfair and not reflecting the will of the Cambodian people," he said.
But international observers have said that the polls, while marred by some intimidation and vote-buying, were better than previous elections and were, by and large, free and fair.
The allocation of seats in the 123-seat National Assembly will be determined later under a complex formula of proportional representation, and may not be known for several more weeks. However, it is certain that the CPP will fall short of the two-thirds majority necessary under Cambodian law to govern alone, and thus will again have to find a junior coalition partner.
Funcinpec was in the last coalition, and election analysts have said its partnership with the CPP was a key factor in the royalist party's relatively poor showing this time around. Estimates are that it will lose 17 seats from its 1998 total.
Both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party have said they will not join a CPP government unless Prime Minister Hun Sen steps down. Sam Rainsy says that in addition, all three major parties must be part of any coalition.
"We have a common stance that we would like to see a new prime minister," he said. "And if there is any coalition government in the future, it will be a three-party government."
Hun Sen has already rejected any suggestion that he step aside.
Electoral analysts see the opposition stance as the opening stage in the intense political bargaining that is expected to come.
The 1998 elections ended with a similar deadlock that persisted for several months, and sparked street unrest in which several people were killed.