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