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Polls close in Cambodian general election with premier Hun Sen poised for reelection

Cambodians have voted in elections that are expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen’s 28-year rule. However, the vote faces alleged polling irregularities and the exclusion of the opposition leader.

Polling stations have closed in Cambodia in elections that are likely to see Hun Sen retain power.

Hun Sen voted near his home in Takmau in Kandal province, south of the capital Phnom Penh as polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0000 GMT) Sunday. About 9.6 million people registered to vote with more than one third below the age of 30.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge fighter turned prime minister, was so confident that his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) would win he did not campaign for the parliamentary election.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy visited a polling station near his party's office in Phnom Penh even though he himself cannot vote and is not on the ballot because he failed to register in time.

"I am happy to see people flocking to vote," he told reporters. Rainsy returned from a self-imposed exile on July 19 after receiving a surprise royal pardon at the behest of Hun Sen, his long time rival. He went into exile to avoid a jail term for convictions he said were politically motivated.

His party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), charge that the ruling party uses the machinery of government and security forces in an unfair manner to reward or pressure voters. The party claims to have also uncovered signs of voter fraud including tens of thousands of duplicated voter names that would allow some people to cast multiple ballots.

"More people will vote for us," Rainsy said ahead of the vote. "But I suspect the ruling party, knowing this, will cheat more, will cheat like mad.”

For decades, Hun Sen's political message has been that he and the CPP liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge and introduced economic growth.

However, the 60-year-old is regularly accused of violating human rights and silencing political dissent. And despite double-digit economic growth, Cambodia is still one of the world's poorest countries.

Eight parties ran at the elctions, with the CNRP and CPP the only serious contenders.

. hc/ch (AP, AFP)