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FILE PHOTO: Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) attends an inauguration of a new boat terminal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

(reuters_tickers)

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won all 125 parliamentary seats in a national election in July, electoral authorities said on Wednesday as the opposition called the result illegitimate.

Rights groups say the July 29 vote was neither free nor fair given the absence of a significant challenger to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for more than three decades.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Dim Sovannarom told Reuters the CPP won all seats and took 4.8 million of 6.9 million votes.

The only viable opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved last year by the Supreme Court and 118 of its members were banned from politics for five years.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was jailed on treason charges in September. He remains in pre-trial detention.

Authorities also launched a sweeping crackdown in the lead-up to the vote targeting non-governmental organizations, rights groups and independent media.

The CPP eventually contested the ballot along with 19 other parties, none of which were particularly critical of the government. The royalist Funcinpec party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, once Hun Sen's main rival but now aligned with him, came second with 374,510 votes.

Mu Sochua, CNRP's vice president, who lives in self-imposed exile abroad, called the new members of parliament illegitimate.

"The CPP is leading the nation to a one-party state with one man making all decisions for the entire nation through a sham election rejected by democratically elected governments," she told Reuters.

"Sham elections cannot produce a legitimate National Assembly."

Voter turnout was 83 percent, the NEC said in a separate statement on Wednesday, up from 69.6 percent in the previous election in 2013.

The CPP was banking on a high voter turnout to bestow a veneer of legitimacy on the election which many, including the United Nations and some Western countries, had criticized.

Former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, in exile in France since 2015, accused the NEC of "artificially inflating voter turnout" and being under the ruling party's control.

"The NEC was able to play all sorts of tricks because, after the forceful dissolution of the CNRP, the election body was placed under the absolute control of the CPP," he said in an emailed statement.

Sovannarom rejected the accusations.

Following the official result, Hun Sen thanked his supporters in a message posted on Facebook. "People have decided to choose peace, development and continue to democracy in the country," he said.

The United States, which already imposed visa curbs on some Cambodian government members close to Hun Sen over the crackdown, said it would consider steps, including an expansion of visa restrictions, in response to July's "flawed election".

(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)

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Reuters