The Cambodian government has claimed victory in Sunday's national election, indicating that longtime leader Hun Sen will extend his 28-year rule despite a strong challenge from a rejuvenated opposition.
A government spokesman said Mr. Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 68 seats in the nation's 123-seat parliament. That figure represents a significant decline from the 90 seat majority previously held by the party. There was no immediate confirmation from the National Election Committee, which was expected to release official results in the coming days.
Earlier, opposition leader Sam Rainsy's Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) issued a statement saying it was the winner of the election, but it later retracted that claim.
Opposition figures had long complained that the election was unfair, accusing Mr. Hun Sen of dominating media coverage and using government resources to try to rig the results in his favor. They also criticized the government for blocking Rainsy from standing or voting in the election despite enabling him to return to Cambodia from self-imposed exile days before the election.
The government said Rainsy's registration for the election came too late.
But, Rainsy campaigned freely in the run-up to the vote and drew large crowds of supporters, suggesting his return had given a boost to the opposition. His party was formed by a merger of opposition factions that held 29 seats in the outgoing parliament.
Sunday's vote was largely peaceful. But, Rainsy warned that Cambodia's opposition would stage protests if allegations of irregularities were verified. He made the comment while visiting a polling station in the capital, Phnom Penh.