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Preliminary Results Indicate Ruling Cambodia People's Party Wins Seats - 2002-02-04

Preliminary results from the local elections in Cambodia indicate the ruling Cambodia People's Party won a majority of seats in all but a few dozen communes. However, a strong showing by rival parties means that for the first time in three decades there will be other voices in local government in Cambodia.

The Cambodia People's Party Monday said its candidates received the most votes in all but a handful of Cambodia's 1,600 communes. As a result, the CPP will occupy the posts of communal chief in most of the country.

However, preliminary results indicate that the opposition Sam Rainsy party, which came in third in national elections four years ago, made significant gains in many areas. The party won the communal chief's position in about a dozen primarily urban communes.

The Sam Rainsy party also won the second largest number of seats on scores of communal councils and as a result will wield power alongside the ruling party in many local governments.

The head of the party, Sam Rainsy, says Cambodia's political landscape has changed dramatically. "The Sam Rainsy party has emerged as the only credible alternative to the ruling Cambodia People's Party of Mr. Hun Sen." Mr. Sam Rainsy says the gains were the fruit of intensive organization at the local level. And as a result, he says he is hopeful of even more gains in next year's national elections.

The royalist FUNCINPEC party suffered a setback, placing third in hundreds of communes. Party officials say they felt low voter-turnout was a factor.

An observer with the Asia Network for Free Elections, Sunai Phasuk, says initial reports from the field indicate the election went smoothly despite some technical irregularities. "There were minor lapses in technical and logistic arrangements, such as queue management in some areas. There were mistakes about the voters lists," Sunai said.

Observers also note there were irregularities on some ballots. Most of all, they criticized what they called an atmosphere of intimidation, particularly in remote areas, where some 20 candidates and political activists were murdered in the past year.

The election's official results are expected in three weeks.