Cambodia Elections: Cambodia heading to the polls on Sunday

Cambodia Elections: Cambodia heading to the polls on Sunday

But frustration with corruption among a young population with little memory of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge era gave an opening to new challengers.

Critics say victory will be the culmination of years of state-sponsored violence, intimidation and deft legal footwork by Hun Sen to head off an opposition which emerged as a serious threat at the last election in 2013.

At the Toul Kork Primary School in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh volunteers swept classrooms and laid out wooden desks on Saturday, transforming rooms into polling booths ahead a general election Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to easily win.

"Elections have a history of cementing authoritarian rule in Cambodia", said Lee Morgenbesser, a lecturer at Griffith University in Australia who studies Cambodia politics.

Mr Hun Sen, a former soldier in the Khmer Rouge who later opposed them, has presided over a sustained period of rapid economic growth.

Rights groups have slammed the election as a farce and opposition figures have called for a boycott to send a message to the ruling party.

Others forfeited their votes by marking their ballots with a giant X, crossing out all of the 20 parties listed and or writing that the election is unjust or a sham at the top of the paper, according to photos posted on Facebook.

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights said the elections were taking place in a "highly repressive political environment".

But critics have condemned the vote as illegitimate and called for a boycott following the dissolution of the largest opposition political force - the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - and a government crackdown against dissent.

Pictures of spoiled ballots circulated on social media though they could not be independently verified. "As a citizen, I fulfilled my obligation to vote", Ros Vireak said. "Cambodia's image, cemented by this fake election, will be badly damaged in the eyes of the worldwide community".

"A lot of my friends did not go to vote". "It makes no difference", said an airport taxi driver from the southwestern province of Takeo.

Hun Sen was given a scare in the 2013 election when the CNRP did well enough to credibly claim it would have won had the government not manipulated the voter registration process.

Cambodia's Hun Sen set for re-election in largely unopposed poll

Polls closed at 3 p.m. local time.

Hun Sen is part of a small coterie of world leaders to hold power for three decades, adapting to the shifting political landscape in the poor Southeast Asian country since the Cold War.

The ambitious former fighter was installed as prime minister in 1985, aged just 32.

His Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has won every election since 1998 and the 65-year-old strongman has been in power for 33 years, trumpeting his stable reign and warning of a return to war without it. Many CNRP leaders have fled overseas and are living in self-imposed exile and its leader, Kem Sokha, was jailed in September on treason charges.

The party itself was dissolved in November by the Supreme Court, based on a complaint from the government that it was conspiring with the USA to overthrow it.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said many voters are grudgingly going to the polls.

A climate of fear driven by local-level ruling party members has made many reluctant to openly criticise the vote. "This is the success of the election", Sik Bun Hok, chairman of the NEC, said in the televised news conference.

He's been accused of stacking the military with fiercely loyal allies, while handing key security roles to relatives and his sons in an attempt to build a dynasty.

Sam Rainsy, an opposition figure who lives in self-exile in France, said the foregone election victory was a "hollow one".

Although 20 parties contested the election, the only one with the popularity and organisation to mount a real challenge, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was dissolved past year by the Supreme Court in a ruling generally seen as political in nature.

Authorities have vowed to take action against anyone who urges a poll boycott even though they insist voting is not compulsory.

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