By SOPHENG CHEANG Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia July 31, 2013 (AP)
Cambodia's opposition party escalated its challenge to the country's election results Wednesday, claiming it had actually won a majority of National Assembly seats. The action suggests that the opposition is digging in for a protracted battle over the results against the long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Hun Sen meanwhile made his first public appearance since Sunday's election, speaking briefly at the opening of a flyover bridge in the capital. He struck a conciliatory tone, saying that he would send two of his close party colleagues to hold talks with the opposition leaders. He did not otherwise commit to any course of action.
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said that based on reports from party workers and election observers, his party had won at least 63 of the assembly's 123 seats. Party leader Sam Rainsy made a similar claim late Tuesday to a small group of reporters.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party earlier claimed it had won 68 seats to the opposition's 55 in the election. Provisional official results support the ruling party's projection.
The opposition has already called for an investigation of voting irregularities, including registration problems that could have disenfranchised more than a million people. There have also been accounts of people voting who were not entitled to.
Hun Sen said Wednesday that he would support establishing such a body if the state National Election Committee approved it. The government-appointed body, criticized for failing to address registration problems before the election, has not appeared inclined to endorse such an action.
Hun Sen said he did not wish the people to be upset by the conduct of the election. His appearance came after rumors had circulated earlier that he had resigned or fled the country.
The opposition's complaints have been supported by a number of nonpartisan Cambodian and foreign groups.
The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch charged Wednesday that the ruling party "appears to have been involved in electoral fraud in Cambodia's July 28, 2013 national elections, according to residents and ruling party officials" it interviewed.
"Senior ruling party officials appear to have been involved in issuing fake election documents and fraudulently registering voters in multiple provinces," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement. "And people from the party seem to have been turning up in places where they clearly don't live and insisting on voting — not to mention the many other claims of fraud around the country."