Cambodian election authorities on Sunday released final results from this month’s local polls, confirming that the opposition to the country’s strongman leader made significant gains.
More than seven million people voted on June 4, testing the political temperature of a country rife with tension between Prime Minister Hun Sen and an embattled opposition determined to end his more than three-decade rule.
Hun Sen faces a national election next year and has vowed “civil war” if he is toppled.
The official results released by the National Election Committee on Sunday showed his ruling party won 1,156 out of the country’s 1,646 communes.
But the opposition party won 489 communes, a more than tenfold increase on the 40 they won five years ago. A third party won one seat.
The popular vote was closer. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People Party (CPP) received 51 percent while the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) got 44 percent.
During a ceremony on Sunday morning, CNRP leader Kem Sokha hailed the gains and told his supporters the opposition would win next year.
“We have moved each step to this point, but we will move forward for happiness and progress,” Kem Sokha said, adding “there will be no war”.
Hun Sen’s ruling party said they remained confident.
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for CPP, told AFP that from the results of the local polls, he would expect the party to win 71 of the 123 National Assembly seats next year.
In recent months Hun Sen has issued a series of increasingly shrill warnings of violence if his three-decade rule is ended.
On Wednesday he told his critics to “prepare coffins” and said he would be happy to “eliminate 100 or 200 people” if that ensured the country’s stability.
Rights groups and the opposition have accused Hun Sen of using the courts to pursue CNRP figures as well as dissidents and rights workers.
Amnesty International said some 27 political prisoners had been placed behind bars since 2013, with dozens of ongoing prosecutions against others.