WASHINGTON DC —
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has set a conciliatory tone in his first public remarks since Sunday's disputed parliamentary elections.
The long-time leader told a crowd in Phnom Penh that he is open to discussions with the opposition and would support an investigation of alleged election irregularities if the National Election Commission thinks such a move is necessary.
Meanwhile, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is claiming victory in Sunday's parliamentary election, stepping up its rejection of the government's initial results.
The party said Wednesday its own polling data showed it won at least 63 parliamentary seats, compared to just 60 seats for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
The government's preliminary figures released Sunday showed the CCP winning 68 seats - a significantly reduced majority from the last election - but enough to return longtime Hun Sen to power.
The CNRP, led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, gathered Wednesday to collect evidence of alleged irregularities, as accusations of fraud continue to come in from international observers.
Rainsy said he hoped the evidence could bolster the party's call for a United Nations-backed investigation into what he said was widespread electoral fraud.
"Every polling station caused problems. In some, the election officials said there was no indelible ink or no papers, and that caused trouble. There could be a million problems like this. So the Cambodia National Rescue Party has to solve these problems," he said.
Rainsy told VOA Khmer as many as 1.2 million voter names had been removed from the national registry, while 200,000 names on it were duplicates.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said the ruling CPP "appears to have been involved in electoral fraud." It said CPP officials may have issued fake voting documents to supporters and allowed some to vote in more than one location.
The New York-based group, which based its conclusions on interviews with residents and officials, called for an independent commission to investigate the claims, since the National Election Commission falls under the ruling party's control.
Cambodian officials have rejected calls for an international inquiry and called on the opposition to clearly show what evidence it has. It has denied any wrongdoing. The CPP insists Hun Sen will stay on as prime minister.
The United States and European Union have both expressed concern over voting alleged irregularities in the vote. The U.S. has called for a "transparent and full investigation of all credible reports of irregularities."
Even if the preliminary results are upheld, it would be the ruling party's worst election result in 15 years. It could create a tricky political standoff for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has led Cambodia for 28 years.
The opposition was energized by the recent return of Rainsy, who for years had been in self-imposed exile in France, fleeing charges he says were politically motivated. Rainsy received a royal pardon earlier this month, but was not allowed to participate in the elections.
The 60-year-old has threatened to organize mass protests if the government does not respect what he says are the election results. Official results are not expected to be released until mid-August.