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Observers: Cambodia's Pre-Election Mostly Peaceful


Foreign observers keeping a close eye on Cambodia's upcoming general elections have reported a more peaceful pre-election period than for previous campaigns. However, rights groups and opposition parties accuse the government of trying to steal the elections through threats and cheating, accusations the government denies. Rory Byrne has this report for VOA from Phnom Penh.

This is Cambodia's fourth general election since democracy was reintroduced by a United Nations mandate in 1991.

Most observers expect the ruling Cambodian People's Party led by Prime Minister Hun Sen to sweep to an easy victory.

In the past, two-thirds of parliamentarians were needed to form a government. But a recent change in Cambodia's election law means that a simple majority of 50 percent plus one are now all that is needed.

That means that for the first time, the ruling CPP is likely to be able to govern without the support of smaller parties.

While the run-up to polling day has been more peaceful than in previous elections, it has been marked by a spate of politically motivated killings and other alleged abuses, such as vote-buying and intimidation.

Kek Galabru, head of the local human rights group Lichadho, says that ruling party activists are threatening voters.

"We continue to see intimidation everywhere, everywhere," said Galabru. "Like they say: we need your ID to be able to...I don't know what to do, so people are scared. Why they want my ID? Sometimes they come [and say]: if you join us you will have a good future. If you don't: be careful - look at the land-grabbing etc."

Parliament member Son Chhay is a spokesman for the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party. He accuses the ruling Cambodian People's Party of trying to steal the election.

"If you have a free and fair election without vote-buying, without intimidation, without cheating, I doubt that the CPP would be able to get more than 30 percent of the vote," said Chhay. "So it's quite a big problem here. We're never going to be able to have a free and fair election. You know, you can compare Cambodia with Zimbabwe, if not worse than that."

The government denies that widespread electoral abuses have occurred, pointing to the reduced number of politically-motivated killings reported during the pre-election period. Ke Bun Khieng is the Campaign Deputy Director for the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Khieng says he believes the campaign to choose party candidates for the fourth term in parliament went smoothly. He says incidents of politically-motivated violence were very low and that electoral monitors have reported big improvements since the last election.

While International monitors in Cambodia have reported an improved election environment this time around, they point to what they call "critical problems" in Cambodia, such as the governments monopoly on TV broadcasting.

Tom Andrews is a spokesman for the National Democratic Institute which just released a report on the pre-election period.

"Cambodia has made some improvements - I think you have to recognize that," he said. "I was here in 1995 and again for the elections in 1998 - there are clear improvements, That said, are voters in Cambodia getting a clear opportunity to hear all sides in the election, no. Is the ruling party using the apparatus of power vis-a-vis the government to maximize it's advantage - yes."

With one day to go before voting begins, active campaigning has now come to an end.

The government has introduced a 24-hour alcohol ban to coincide with voting which begins early Sunday morning.

First results are not expected for a few days.


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