Vote counting got underway Sunday in Cambodia’s general election, which long-time leader Hun Sen is all but guaranteed to win as he looks to secure his legacy by handing the reins to his eldest son. The 70-year-old former Khmer Rouge cadre has ruled since 1985 and faced no real contest in the poll, with opposition parties banned, challengers forced to flee and freedom of expression stifled. His Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected to retain all 125 seats in the lower house, prolonging his grip on power and paving the way for a dynastic succession some critics have compared to North Korean politics. The only serious opposition party was disqualified on a technicality in the run-up to the polls, and it will be a surprise if any of the 17 other small, poorly funded parties win seats. Polls closed at 3:00 pm (0800 GMT) and initial results are expected within hours. More than 9.7 million people are registered to vote in the seventh election since the United Nations first sponsored polls in 1993, after years of conflict — including the era of the genocidal Khmer Rouge — left the country devastated. Over the last 30 years whatever hopes the international community might have had for a vibrant multi-party democracy in Cambodia have been flattened by the juggernaut of Hun Sen’s rule. The veteran PM has begun to look to the future, saying he would hand over to his son, four-star general Hun Manet — possibly even in the coming weeks. “We have exercised our civil right and responsibility and right… of citizens to vote to choose the party we love to lead the country,” the 45-year-old scion told reporters after casting his ballot. Many wonder whether Hun Manet, educated in the United States and Britain, might bring change to the country — though Hun Sen has made it clear he intends to keep pulling strings even after his son takes over. Asked by AFP what he planned to do for Cambodia when he became prime minister, Hun Manet replied: “I have no comment on that.” Rights groups have condemned the election. On the eve of voting, a 17-strong coalition — including the Asian Network for Free Elections and the International Federation for Human Rights — said the polls were of “profound concern”. As of 1:00 pm, 7.2 million people had voted — 74 percent of the electorate — according to the National Election Committee.