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Mostly-Peaceful Voting Ends in Cambodia - 2003-07-27

Polls have closed for Cambodia's third national election in 10 years. Voters were choosing a new National Assembly to determine the next government. The voting went relatively smoothly.

Voters flocked to the polls Sunday to choose representatives for the 123 seats in the National Assembly.

Voting was peaceful for the most part, but a grenade went off outside the headquarters of the royalist party FUNCINPEC about five hours after the polls opened. There were no injuries or damage.

Two grenades were also found outside the royal palace in Phnom Penh, but did not go off.

Speaking at party headquarters shortly afterward, FUNCINPEC Secretary-General Prince Sirivudh denounced what he called a climate of intimidation, and called on the government to find the attackers.

"Please, once again, there is no accusation," said the prince. "But it is now [up] to the government to stabilize, to find out who is behind this kind of criminal act."

The ruling Cambodian Peoples' Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to win handily. Most people are interested in which party will come in second and thus be a potential junior coalition partner in the CPP government - FUNCINPEC or the Sam Rainsy party.

Voters interviewed said this election was markedly better than the 1998 polls.

At a local market near Phnom Penh, a young woman named Chan sports a bright orange shirt with the image of pop star Britney Spears as she sells rice.

"This is better," she said. "There are more polling places, so there is no crowding, and there are also more international observers." Echoing a comment from other voters, she said that Cambodians are better informed about the candidates and their parties than they were in 1998.

Some 600 international observers fanned out across Cambodia to monitor the polls. Christine Todd Whitman, former chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and head of a 50-member American observer team, said some things have changed since 1998. Others, she said, have not. "There have been some changes that are good and positive here," she noted. "There are also a lot of very disturbing allegations, which have been made."

Observers say voter intimidation continued up to election day, but in more subtle and sophisticated forms than before.

Unofficial results are expected to begin coming in early Monday, but the official final count will not be released until August 8. Some observer groups are planning on releasing their findings on the conduct of the election before then.