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Cambodia Kicks Off Month-Long Election Campaign - 2003-06-26


Political parties began competing for seats in Cambodia's National Assembly Thursday as the country kicked off its official month-long election campaign period. The day passed peacefully without violence, which plagued the country's two previous national elections.

Cambodian politicians began canvassing the country for support Thursday as the campaign period for the country's July 27 general election began. In the morning, supporters could be seen riding around Phnom Penh in the back of trucks waving banners, sporting political T-shirts and caps.

Politicians from the 22 parties staged rallies in the city and in other venues across the nation. But the ruling party faces two main challengers: the Royalist Funcinpec Party, now a coalition partner, and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh addressed more than 12,000 Funcinpec supporters in the country's populous province of Kompong Cham.

Sam Rainsy drew about a crowd of 3,000 in front of the country's National Assembly Thursday morning. He told supporters he will deliver justice and development and that a vote for him would eliminate Cambodia's endemic corruption.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party amassed more than 10,000 people at its headquarters. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has called on government officials to remain neutral for the campaign period, predicted victory.

Most observers agree the ruling party will be re-elected, and perhaps even win a majority government. And most also hope that the prime minister's supporters take his appeals for calm to heart.

In the past six months more than a dozen people linked to political parties have been killed. In the previous general elections in 1993 and 1998 Hun Sen's party, which consolidated its power in a 1997 coup, was criticized by observers for intimidation tactics.

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