Undeterred by the pouring rain, a long convoy of motorbikes carrying cheering, flag-waving supporters of Cambodia’s ruling party revved their engines in preparation for their triumphant final rally in downtown Phnom Penh.
People dutifully lined the road as far as you could see, party stickers on their cheeks, the sky-blue hats and shirts they had been given to wear getting steadily wetter.
Perched on the back of a truck, Hun Manet, the 45-year-old eldest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, greeted the crowds proclaiming that only the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was capable of leading the country.
Indeed, his father had made sure that the CPP was the only party which could possibly win the election.
Hun Sen, 70, has run Cambodia in his trademark pugnacious style for 38 years: first in a Vietnam-installed communist regime, then under a UN-installed multi-party system, and more recently as an increasingly intolerant autocrat.
The only party now capable of challenging his rule, the Candlelight Party, was banned from the election on a technicality in May. The remaining 17 parties allowed to contest it were too small or too little-known to pose a threat.
A few hours after the polls closed, the CPP claimed the expected landslide, with a turnout of more than 80%. There were quite high levels of spoiled ballot papers in some polling stations: that was probably the only safe way voters could show their support for the opposition.
With Hun Manet expected to succeed his father within weeks of the vote, in a long-prepared transfer of power, this felt more like a coronation than an election.
“I don’t think we can even call it a sham election,” says Mu Sochua, an exiled former minister and member of the CNRP, another opposition party banned by the Cambodian authorities in 2017.
“We should call it a ‘selection’, for Hun Sen to make sure that his party will select his son as the next prime minister of Cambodia, to continue the dynasty of the Hun family.”
Yet there were signs of nervousness in the CPP before the vote. New laws were hurriedly passed criminalising any encouragement of ballot-spoiling or a boycott. Several Candlelight members were arrested.
“Why was the CPP campaigning so hard, against no one in this election with no real opposition?” asks Ou Virath, founder of the Cambodian think tank Future Forum.
“They knew they would win the election – that was an easy outcome for them. But winning legitimacy is much more difficult.
“They need to keep weakening the opposition, but at the same time, they also need to satisfy the people, so there is no repeat of previous setbacks and disruptions, like street protests.”
Hun Sen is one of Asia’s great survivors, a wily, street-smart politician who has time and again outmanoeuvred his opponents. He has skilfully played off China, by far the biggest foreign investor these days, against the US and Europe, which are trying to claw back lost influence in the region.
But he has come close to losing elections in the past. He is still vulnerable, to rival factions in his own ruling party, and to any sudden downturn in the Cambodian economy which could sour public opinion against him. So as he prepares for a once-in-a-generation leadership change, he is trying to cement his legacy.
A short drive north of the capital, a 33m-high concrete-and-marble monolith was built recently, which he calls the Win-Win memorial.