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
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
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 for the first time, the ruling CPP is likely to be able to govern without
the support of smaller parties.
While 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
Parliament 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.
International 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.
Andrews is a spokesman for the National Democratic Institute which just released
a report on the pre-election period.
"Cambodia 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
First results are not expected for a few days