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Cambodia PM's party claims victory in election test run

PHNOM PENH -- Cambodia's ruling party looks to have won a landslide win in local elections, putting authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen on course to remain one of the world's longest-serving leaders after parliamentary elections next year.

Official results from Sunday's elections for the chiefs of areas known as communes are not expected for several weeks but the major parties were in agreement that Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had swept the polls, as it has in all national ballots in the past decade.

The CPP claimed 72 percent of the seats in what it sees as a test of support ahead of the 2013 election. General elections take place every five years.

“These results show a landslide victory,” top CPP member of parliament Cheam Yeap told Reuters. “This is a basic projection for the parliamentary election in the middle of next year.”

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rogue soldier who defected to eventual invaders Vietnam during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 reign of terror, has been in power for 27 of his 59 years and has said he plans to remain there until he dies.

A shrewd political tactician with an image as a tough-talking strongman, Hun Sen's supporters say he is popular among the millions of rural poor, having overseen unprecedented growth, stability and development since the decades of war that turned the former French colony into a failed state.

Critics say Hun Sen is a ruthless leader who has intimidated his opponents into submission or frightened them out of the country.

The latest polls did throw up some signs of discontent, with the CPP's notable loss of seats in areas that have seen long-running land disputes and forced evictions from land leased to foreign companies. The government suspended new land concessions to foreign firms in May.

The main opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) said early indications from monitors showed it took just 21 percent of the seats but it said there were irregularities in Sunday's vote.

Its self-exiled leader, Sam Rainsy, who fled Cambodia after being sentenced to 12 years for forgery and destruction of property, among other crimes, says the 2013 vote will be a sham unless he is allowed to take part without serving jail time.

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