Cambodia's opposition appeared to make significant gains in parliament in yesterday's general election, while the ruling party claimed a victory that would deliver another mandate for Hun Sen, the long-ruling prime minister.
Khieu Kanharith, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), said on his Facebook page that his party won 68 seats in the race for 123 national assembly seats. He said the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won 55 seats - a significant increase on the 29 it held in the outgoing parliament.
Results from the official National Election Committee were expected last night.
If the results stand as the ruling party projected, it would be a huge boost for the beleaguered opposition, giving it a strong platform for future growth.
However, a simple majority is sufficient for most legislative business, ensuring that the CPP can continue to administer the country much as it wishes, though with increased sensitivity for public opinion. The CPP has an overwhelming majority of local administration posts as well.
The CNRP had claimed earlier to have won the election, but later retracted the claim. At a news conference, party leader Sam Rainsy instead stressed that his party's gains were a victory for the country.
The opposition decried what it described as the kingdom's worst ever poll irregularities, including missing voter names and thousands who turned up to find their ballots already used.
"The situation is more serious than at any previous election," CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said.
Protests broke out at one polling station in the capital Phnom Penh where a crowd destroyed two police cars, a military police spokesman said, as anger erupted over names missing from the voter list.
Rights groups also expressed concern that the ink used to mark voters could be easily washed off.
"It is very difficult to proclaim this a free and fair election," said Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.
There has not been equal access to the media and the opposition leader was not allowed to run as a candidate," he said.
Local poll monitor the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia alleged that up to 1.25 million people who were eligible to cast ballots were not on voter lists. About 9.6 million people were registered to vote, more than one-third of whom were aged under 30.
The National Election Committee denied irregularities.