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Ruling party wins Cambodian election — but opposition makes surprising gains

Long-time ruling Cambodian People's Party takes 68 seats, while the new Cambodian National Rescue Party takes a surprising 55 in a hotly-contested election.

The 2013 Cambodian parliamentary election took a surprising turn Sunday, as the long-time ruling Cambodian People's Party saw itself lose ground to the newly-founded Cambodian National Rescue Party — figures arrived at after a long day of occasional unrest, and allegations of voter fraud. 

The unexpected return from exile of CNRP leader Sam Rainsy appears to have paid off for the opposition party helmed by Rainsy and politician Kem Sokha, which appears to have scored a surprising 55 seats, as compared to the 68 claimed by the CNRP at the time of writing.

"We can say we've won this election," CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith stated to AFP on Sunday. 

Poll results continue to come in, and final numbers may take longer to be released. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Cambodia elections: change may really be on its way 

Cambodian voters took to the polls at 7:00 AM and continued to stream in until 3:00 PM in the evening, many returning to their home provinces from urban areas.

More of Cambodia's 9.7 million registered voters this year were under the age of 30 than at any time in recent history, heading to the polls with no memory of the violence of the Khmer Rouge years. 

Allegations of voting irregularities were rife on Sunday, and worsened as the day wound down and the opposition and observers continued to note the incidences.  Some monitors suspect that as many as a million have been disenfranchised. 

"The situation is more serious than at any previous election," Cambodian National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said to AFP Sunday evening of the irregularities. 

Contention first broke out over the not-so-indelible ink used to mark the fingers of voters. Videos sprang up on the Internet of the purple ink washing off easily— adding ammunition to wide-spread rumors hat some people were voting more than once, or that foreigners were voting in the elections. 

Many voters arrived at the polls to find their names missing from the rolls, an irregularity that led to scences of violence in Stung Meancheyprovince, outside of Phnom Penh. Angry voters detained a polling station director inside of a Buddhist pagoda, then threw rocks at a man who attempted to rescue her,wrote the Phnom Penh Post.

The protesters also torched two military police vehicles, in scenes that were widely shared on social media. 

"The CPP's behavior in the run-up to the vote suggested that they sensed a threat among the electorate, and Sunday's results indicate that the ruling party correctly anticipated trouble," independent analyst Craig Etcheson told GlobalPost.

"It appears that something fundamental has changed in Cambodia. How the CPP reacts to this change will be telling."

As Sunday evening rolls into morning, the Cambodian people await Monday — and the aftermath of one of the most hotly contested elections in this Southeast Asian nation in decades. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/cambodia/130728/ruling-party-wins-cambodian-election-opposition-m