efe-epaPhnom Penh

Voting began Sunday morning for the general elections in Cambodia, in which the country's incumbent prime minister is running without the challenge of the main opposition.

Prime Minister Hun Sen voted early morning in Takhmau in the Kandal province, 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of Phnom Penh, soon after polling stations opened began and later showed his index finger marked with indelible ink to reporters.

"I am very happy, the leader has won," a young voter told EFE at a polling station in the Angrae district of the capital, where the constant flow of voters had led to a queue early in the morning.

Hun Sen is essentially running unopposed after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned last year by the Supreme Court.

19 other candidates, mostly from small, recently formed parties, were also running against the prime minister, who has ruled the southeast Asian nation since 1985.

A total of 8.3 million Cambodians are eligible to vote in the polls. Voting stations will remain open until 3pm local time (8am GMT).

The ruling Cambodian People's Party is widely expected to win the majority of the 125 parliamentary seats up for grabs.

International observers have been heavily critical of the elections, dismissing them as fraudulent and rigged by the CPP.

The CNRP, which won 44 percent of votes in 2013, was dissolved in 2017 after a judicial offensive that also led to the arrest of its leader on charges of conspiring with foreigners to overthrow the government; many of the CNRP's top members have been forced into exile. The CNRP has called for a boycott of these elections.

"He is not a good president. This is not good for the country," a motorcycle-taxi driver, who supported the dissolved opposition, told EFE.

The crackdown on the CNRP has led to concerns surrounding the fairness of the vote.

"This election is in reality the funeral ceremony for Cambodian democracy," Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson recently said on Twitter.

The UN has also questioned the legitimacy of the elections, along with the United States and the European Union, which withdrew aid to the National Election Committee of Cambodia and threatened to impose sanctions.

The Cambodian government has denied any accusations of wrongdoing or unfairness, pointing to the number of different candidates who were running as well as the international observers sent to monitor.

A delegation of the Centrist Democrat International was monitoring the elections as observers, led by former president of Colombia Andres Pastrana.

"I believe so," Pastrana told EFE when asked if the polls could be considered legitimate.

"Cambodia is a young democracy, and there are imperfections in all democracies (...) one has see the history of this country in its context. See where they were 20 years ago and where they are now," he said.

Twenty-three national and international election monitoring organizations have criticized these observers, accusing them of bias, links with the CPP, and lack of preparation.

The election will be the sixth since the United Nations organized the first democratic vote in 1993 following the peace agreements that two years earlier had ended more than two decades of civil war between several Cambodian factions, including the Khmer Rouge.