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Cambodian Campaign Comes to a End - 2002-02-01

In Cambodia a two-week campaign period is ending and voters are beginning a day of reflection before going the polls Sunday to elect local councils. The elections generated controversy up until the last minute.

Caravans more than one kilometer long with dozens of trucks carrying hundreds of people, snaked through the Cambodian capital Friday, as campaigning peaked for Sunday's local elections, the first in nearly three decades.

Candidates of the governing Cambodia People's Party, which until this election named the country's 1,600 communal chiefs, promised to do more to meet the needs of the people.

Candidates of the royalist FUNCIPEC party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition that is competing as a challenger in these elections, told voters it is the party of peace. And candidates of the opposition Sam Rainsy party said a vote for them was a vote against corruption and cronyism.

The National Election Commission, meanwhile, continued to come under criticism for canceling the broadcast of the country's first-ever campaign debates. The spokesman of the Commission, Samrang Kamsan, told reporters Friday that they debated more than 50 hours before deciding against the broadcasts.

Mr. Samrang says there was a conflict between the political parties over the broadcasts and because it could not be resolved, electoral law dictated that they must be cancelled.

The director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy that sponsored the debates, Lao Mong Hay, disagreed, saying the ruling party opposed the broadcasts. He says the ban negatively affected the fairness of the elections. "The parties, the candidates are denied access to the electronic media to introduce themselves, to put forward their political platform, to inform the electorate," he said. "And the electorate is denied such information. It cannot formulate any informed choice."

Nevertheless, Professor Lao Mong says the elections will loosen the total control of the ruling party over local affairs. And he says the fact that candidates from other parties will join the newly created communal councils means there will be new people in government with new ideas.