PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia goes to the polls on July 28 for the first time since 2008, voting in parliamentary elections that will feature a more powerful — and widely supported — opposition than has been seen in years.
The election has been marked by the return last week of long-time opposition leader Sam Rainsy from four years of exile abroad.
Pardoned suddenly by long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen, Sam Rainsy has returned to join with Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha to compete for seats with the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
The CPP — recognizable by the white hats that supporters wear as they criss-cross the city — is running on a platform that reminds the people of the stability and peace they've enjoyed under Hun Sen, who has been in power in one fashion or another since 1985.
Meanwhile, CNRP supporters wave flags with a picture of a rising sun emblazoned on them, shouting "Change or no change!" to all comers, as they champion the bespectacled Sam Rainsy and freedom of speech advocate and former prisoner of conscience Kem Sokha.
As they rode through the streets on Friday during the last day of active campaigning, CNRP supporters were preceded by a crowd of thousands marked by its jubilance and open dissatisfaction with the CPP, a phenomenon not seen here in Cambodia for many years.
Although the CNRP is unlikely to win the general election, they are likely to pick up more parliamentary seats than the ruling party bargained for, one of the first signs that Hun Sen and the CPP have received that indicates their rule may not last forever.
As allegations of over-subscribed voter roles and faulty indelible ink swirl through the air, Cambodians and Southeast Asia watchers alike will anticipate the results with considerable interest. Change really may be coming to this Southeast Asian nation.