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Preliminary Results Indicate Victory for Cambodia's Ruling Party in Local Elections

Preliminary results indicate that the ruling Cambodian People's Party has won a landslide victory in recent local elections. The margin of victory was similar to the result of the last election and was widely forecast by political analysts who say that the results will allow the CPP to tighten its grip on power. VOA's Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.

While the official results from the elections will not be announced for weeks, observers predict the Cambodian People's Party won control of about 98 percent of the country's local councils or communes.

Twelve political parties fielded more than 100,000 candidates in the elections, only the second local poll to be held in Cambodia after decades of conflict.

The margin of the ruling party's victory came as no surprise to many. Kek Galabru led a team of independent election observers.

"I was not surprised at all. We expected this kind of victory because the ruling party controls everything in Cambodia and they use sticks and carrots. Carrot is a gift - a promise to build the school, the road, dig the well et cetera. And stick is intimidation, threat," she said.

Although there were some reported cases of voter intimidation before the voting Sunday, observers say there was less violence and fewer irregularities than in previous elections.

Voter turnout was about 70 percent, significantly lower than in previous elections. According to the National Election Committee, which organized the polls, voter apathy was the main reason for the low turnout. But some election monitors say that many people were prevented from voting because they could not find their names on the lists of registered voters at the polling stations.

Kek Galabru says the local elections are important because the winners are tasked with organizing the general election.

"We think that this election is very important because it will link to the nominations, selection, election of the village chief," she added. "The village chief is very important, they are the one who will prepare the general election, 2008."

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who heads the CPP, has dominated Cambodian politics since the Khmer Rouge group of ultra-Maoists was ousted from power in 1979. His party controls the parliament, which has used measures such as anti-defamation laws, to silence critics. Several opposition activists have fled the country in recent years, fearing arrest.