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Cambodia Parliamentary Election Starts, With Media Muffled

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares to cast his vote as his wife, Bun Rany, stands beside him at a polling station during a general election in Takhmao, Kandal province, Cambodia, July 29, 2018.

Polls opened Sunday for Cambodians to vote for all 125 seats in the country's National Assembly, in a process widely criticized for the lack of a significant opposition to the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

In the hours before the vote was to begin, the government ordered internet service providers to block the websites of 15 independent news outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the Phnom Penh Post.

Phos Sovann, chief of the Information Ministry's Department of Information and Broadcasting, confirmed the news, which VOA obtained through a Ministry of Information memo.

With the Supreme Court's dissolution last year of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party is largely expected to stay in power.

The party has won the four previous elections, held at five-year intervals. Hun Sen himself has been in power for three decades.

While 20 parties were expected to run in Sunday's parliamentary elections, the CNRP was seen as the only serious threat to Hun Sen's party and leadership. Supporters of the opposition urged voters to boycott the process. A low voter turnout would indicate low support for the ruling party.

A monk votes at a polling station during a general election in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 29, 2018.
A monk votes at a polling station during a general election in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 29, 2018.

Vote criticized

The United Nations criticized the election as fundamentally flawed because of the legal action against the CNRP and its leaders. The United States and the European Union withdrew funding for the election. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure calling for sanctions on the ruling party. Human Rights Watch also called the election flawed and said the lack of significant opposition would make the vote meaningless.

Cambodia's government said about 220 election observers from 52 countries would be on hand to watch for irregularities in the vote. But critics said many of the observer groups had ties to the ruling party.

Phnom Penh Police Chief Chuon Sovann told Reuters that security forces would be deployed across the capital to maintain order during the voting. He said police would stop any protests or anyone urging others not to vote.