Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians join huge campaign rally ahead of local polls

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have take to the streets of the capital Phnom Penh  for rival campaign rallies ahead of elections on Sunday, in a test to premier Hun Sen's 32-year rule.
Pro-government protesters, dressed in shirts, hats and carrying flags, gathered at Samdech Hun Sen Boulevard on the outskirts of the capital in a campaign rally organized by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The 64-year-old Hun Sen attended the gathering in person and addressed the crowd, reminding the nation about the stability he has brought to Cambodia since the end of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.
“If the CPP had not toppled Pol Pot, would Pol Pot have given up power and stopped killing us?” he asked in a rhetorical question, referring to the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot who oversaw the massacre of about two million Cambodians.
Hun Sen himself had been a Khmer Rouge commander who later defected and joined the Vietnam-backed government that ousted the cruel regime.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures as he shouts slogans on the last day of the commune election campaign in Phnom Penh on June 2, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Sunday’s vote in more than 1,600 communes -- village clusters -- comes after months of political tensions in the country. The commune elections are seen as a barometer for the national elections in July 2018.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition accuses Hun Sen, who has served as prime minister since 1985, of crushing dissent after his party nearly lost in the 2013 elections.
The party nearly unseated the premier in a 2013 poll and claims it only lost due to voter fraud. In the post-election violence, one person was killed and others injured during clashes in Cambodia’s capital.
The CNRP, which staged its own rally on the other side of the capital on Friday, has gained ground in recent years.
At least 27 human rights defenders and political activists belonging to the CNRP have been imprisoned since 2013, according a recent Amnesty International report.

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