The Cambodian government has claimed victory in Sunday's national election, indicating that longtime Prime Minister 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-member parliament -- a significant decline from the 90 seat majority it previously held.
Spokesman Khieu Kanharith also said the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) took the remaining 55 seats, almost doubling the 29 seats it held in the outgoing parliament.
There was no immediate confirmation from the National Election Committee, which began releasing vote tallies by district on state television late Sunday. Final election results were expected in several weeks.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy told a news conference that his opposition party is waiting for the official results and information from other sources before making an assessment of the election. He urged his supporters to remain calm. Sunday's vote was largely peaceful.
Earlier, Rainsy's party issued a statement saying it was the winner of the election, but it later retracted that claim.
Cambodian opposition activists have complained that the election was unfair, accusing Mr. Hun Sen of dominating media coverage and using government resources to try to manipulate 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.
Rainsy had been in exile for four years, avoiding a trial in which he was sentenced to prison on criminal charges that he said were politically-motivated. Mr. Hun Sen said he arranged for a royal pardon of Rainsy, a longtime political rival, to promote national reconciliation.
The opposition leader 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 recent merger of opposition factions.
But, as Rainsy visited a polling station in the capital, Phnom Penh, to inspect the voting, he warned that people will stage protests if allegations of voting irregularities are proved to be true. Cambodian police blocked the streets around Prime Minister Hun Sen's residence as a precaution.
Some rights activists said ink used to mark a voter's finger could be easily washed off, raising the risk of people voting twice. Others said the names of many eligible voters were missing from voter lists at polling booths.
Mr. Hun Sen remains a popular figure in Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia's fastest growing economies. He campaigned on a decades-long record of leading the peaceful development of his nation after decades of turmoil that included the brutal 1975 to 1979 dictatorship of the communist Khmer Rouge.
Sunday's election was Cambodia's fifth since 1993, when the United Nations helped the country to stage its first multiparty democratic vote.