All Sides Optimistic About Vote’s Fairness

Polls were largely declared a success free of any major violence Sunday as millions cast their votes to determine the make-up of the country’s 123-seat National Assembly.

Many of the 5.85 million registered voters arrived at polling stations before noon, filing out from the entrances of schools and pagodas.

About 93 percent of the nation’s 6.3 million eligible voters registered. At a station in Phnom Penh’s Preah Yukunthor High School, more than 200 of the listed 341 voters had arrived before noon, station manager Chem Sokha said.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “The process has gone smoothly so far.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen cast his vote at a vocational school in Kandal province’s Takhmau district, where he commented on the sunny weather but refused to answer reporters’ questions.

His current coalition partner, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, voting near his home in Kien Svay district, Kandal province, accused the CPP of distributing 5,000 riel notes Saturday night.

The prince told reporters he predicted a Funcinpec win “de­spite many difficulties and illegalities.”

Monitors withheld their full assessment of Election Day but reported no political killings and only isolated incidents of overt intimidation.

Even opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who cast his ballot at Chak­tomuk High School early Sunday, acknowledged that this year’s elections had been less violent and the widespread practice of vote-buying “less systematic.”

“There are less killings, but still there are killings. Even one is too many,” he said.

Aside from a small explosion in Phnom Penh, a polling station in Svay Rieng province was temporarily disrupted when a nearby man fired an AK-59 twice into the air, said Yim Sokhoun, a director with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

No one was injured in any of the incidents.

“Nothing serious, just some minor things,” reported Somsri Hananuntasuk, director of the Asian Network for Free and Fair Elections mission. “In general, it is peaceful.”

Some voters said the electoral process was nothing new after parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1998 and the commune elections of 2002.

“People are familiar with the election process. We have had two already. People seem to understand how it works,” said 37-year-old Oun Van.

Still, apparent procedural troubles plagued some of Phnom Penh’s polling stations.

Confusion reigned in Boeng Tumpun commune, in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, where a man and a woman were arrested for allegedly carrying multiple ballots. Officials would not release the names of the suspects, who were shortly detained at district police headquarters.

The couple likely broke election law unintentionally when the wom­an took a ballot from the poll­ing station to give to her husband, said So Vesna, deputy chief of the municipal election committee.

“I think it was the fault of election officials in the room because the wife had two voting passes and the officer gave her two ballots,” he said.

Thousands of others at the station jostled for position to find their names posted on voter lists and cast their ballots, as scores more were forced to sit wayside because of registration problems. Kim Touch, 60, said she voted in 1993 and 1998, but her name was dropped from voter lists because she did not register in 2002. “I’m very sorry that I cannot vote. I want to vote because I want the country to have peace,” she said.

More than 100 people were turned away at one polling station because their names were not on posted voter lists, said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

“A lot of people had difficulty finding their name on list” in Banteay Mean­chey and Kandal provinces and Phnom Penh, he said.

Nuon Chea, former Khmer Rouge brother No 2, also was not listed as a voter at a polling station in Pailin but was allowed to cast his ballot. “I am a Cambodian citizen,” he said by telephone. “Even if I am sick, I try to go vote.”

Crowds of voters had dwindled to monitors and the occasional straggler by the time polling stations began closing at 3 pm Sunday, and voters had already turned an eye toward the coming weeks and the probable negotiations to form the next coalition government. Analysts say none of the 23 competing parties are likely to win the two-thirds majority needed to claim the premiership.

Though estimates will be available late today, official results of Sunday’s polls won’t likely be released until Aug 8.

Sam Rainsy said Sunday would be a “sleepless night” for party agents guarding ballot boxes taken to counting centers. The Sam Rainsy Party has already stated it expects the CPP to manipulate the count. The ruling party plans to bus in thousands of supporters to Phnom Penh for a rally today, he said.

Protests and sporadic violence marred the weeks following the 1998 elections, and National Police Chief Hok Lundy issued a public directive Sunday calling for stability in the post-election period.

“After the elections, provincial and municipal authorities have to draw up the plan to protect the security and public order in order to crack down on terrorism that will harm national security,” he said.

In an interview Saturday on Radio Free Asia, the police chief said the Cambodian Freedom Fighters—a US-based rebel group that pledged a coup d’etat attempt this year—were “eliminated.” About two dozen CFF leaflets turned up in Phnom Penh in the weeks leading up to the polls.

Many voters interviewed Sun­day credited much of the calm to the 30,000 local and foreign observers in the country and expressed hope that the relative peace would carry through the counting process.

“No one forced or intimidated me. After the NEC announces the results, I don’t think there will be any disruption. There are a lot of observers here,” said Ken Nhev, a 45-year-old motorcycle taxi driver.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)


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