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Cambodia's Ruling CPP Leads in Sunday Vote, but 2nd Place Remains Undecided - 2003-07-28

In Cambodia, ballots are being tallied from Sunday's general election. As expected, initial returns show the ruling party is winning handily. But the battle for second place is still up in the air.

Preliminary results Monday show the ruling Cambodian Peoples' Party, or CPP, taking a comfortable lead, and poised to easily win. But the all-important battle for second place was shaping up to be a tight contest.

Initial tallies have the opposition Sam Rainsy Party picking up seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, at the expense of the royalist party, Funcinpec. In the 1998 elections, Funcinpec won second place and the right to be junior coalition partner in a CPP government. The Sam Rainsy Party became the main opposition.

Voter turnout, while still high, was lower than the 90 -plus percent of the 1998 polls, hovering at around 80 percent this time.

Sam Rainsy, the leader of the party that bears his name, complained bitterly at the time that the 1998 election was stolen. This time, he still has complaints about the slow vote count and possible ballot manipulation, but says this election is better.

Still, Mr. Rainsy is withholding overall judgment on the conduct of the vote and ballot counting. "We have to be frank," he said. "The seriousness is not as severe, not as acute. In 1998, you must be blind - and there were people who were blind - to declare the election free and fair. This election, of course, cannot be qualified, cannot be said as free and fair. But maybe it is not as revolting as in 1998."

Funcinpec leader Norodom Ranariddh has also voiced complaints about this election.

In some areas, ethnic Vietnamese, who are Cambodian citizens, were barred from voting. Both Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh engaged in sharp electoral rhetoric against the country's ethnic Vietnamese population.

Im Butsary, 67, told how a group of men at the polling place in Kandal Province grabbed her ID card, ripped it to pieces, and told her she could not vote.

Some observers say they were Sam Rainsy Party workers. But he denied his people had any part in the incident in Kandal and also denied any responsibility for disenfranchising ethnic Vietnamese. But he defended his campaign rhetoric.

"I would start by asking the Ministry of Interior some questions, some legitimate questions," said Mr. Rainsy. "How many foreigners live in this country? How many of them over the last few years - 10 years or 20 years, or even two years - have been granted Cambodian citizenship? On what basis has the nationality law been fully respected? Could we see the royal decree as stipulated by the nationality law granting citizenship to any foreigners? So you should ask these questions first before pointing fingers at yesterday's incident."

Final results are expected around August 8. Election observer groups will be issuing their own reports on the conduct of the election in the coming weeks.