Cambodians Excitedly Prepare for the Vote

takeo town – Mei Kosal and his wife Nud Sarat arrived at their pagoda polling station a full day early.

But they just had to make sure their names were on the voting list taped outside.

“We’ve decided who we’re go­ing to vote for, but we cannot tell,” said a smiling Mei Kosal, shortly after he had located his name. “We’re happy to vote, but we’re worried also.”

The couple in this provincial town 75 km south of Phnom Penh were among hundreds, if not thousands, of Cambodians who performed this rehearsal Saturday, in advance of today’s final act.

On this “cooling-off” day after a raucous month-long campaign, the ritual of visiting the polling station seemed to illustrate how eager Cambodians are to participate in their second democratic poll since before the Khmer Rouge regime.

At the same time Saturday, election officials scurried to complete final preparations for the 11,699 polling stations nationwide that are in buildings ranging from pagodas to dilapidated rice mills.

In Phnom Penh, election officials stuck up voter-education posters with paste made of mashed noodles stored in banana leaves. The UN Devel­op­ment Pro­gram and European Union posters remind Cambo­dians that their vote is secret and show how the voting room will look.

How it will look today, that is. The polling stations viewed here and in Phnom Penh on Saturday were empty except for a few desks. But election officials confidently assured people that come 7 am today they would be voter-ready.

Officials reported that the Jap­anese ballot boxes, ballot paper, com­puter-generated voting lists, indelible Indian ink and other materials were in hand—al­though some supplies had ar­rived in just the nick of time.

At least one incident marred an otherwise violence-free day.

In Koh Kong province in southwestern Cambodia, an unidentified assailant threw a grenade into the house of the area deputy chief of the opposition Sam Rain­sy Party, according to the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia. The grenade damaged property, but there were no fatalities, Comfrel said in a statement.

In general, Cambodians relished the last day to contemplate their election decision.

Chan Sophea, operator of a restaurant on the main street in Takeo town, displayed a list of the six people in her family who will cast their votes.

“We’re not yet clear how we will vote,” she said Satur­day at lunchtime. That de­cision, she said, would be made by the family later that evening.

In Phnom Penh, first-time voter Chat Sin Chay said he came to find his name on the list at Wat Lang­ka so he could be sure that it was the correct place for him to vote. He reported with a laugh that it took him about 25 seconds to locate his name.

“I will come very early in the morning—about 6 am—and wait to vote,” the 19-year-old enthusiastically reported. “I am very excited and want to help choose a good leader of Cambodia.”

Chat Sin Chhay is one of an estimated 600,000 first-time voters. A total of 5.4 million voters have been registered for the Cambodian-run election, 700,000 more than during the UN-sponsored elections of 1993.

Election officials would ac­knowledge only a few glitches.

In Takeo, provincial election commission officials said the biggest problem was that some voter names were misspelled when entered in the National El­ection Committee computer.

As of late Saturday morning, they were still verifying names against the computer-generated lists. But they said the names already had been corrected at the commune level, and that voting was set to go.

Most interviewed reported that the cardboard voting booths would be physically set up Satur­day evening or at dawn this morning.

At one commune election commission office in Takeo, staff transported election materials on the back of motorcycles early Saturday afternoon.

The polling stations themselves have a definite Cambodian flavor. Many are in schools and pagodas, while one here in Takeo is in a dilapidated rice mill with a corrugated tin roof, down a rutted dirt road.

While most electoral officials seemed to be well-acquainted with electoral law, there was confusion in some quarters.

In Kompong Speu province west of Phnom Penh, a chief at a polling station just 200 meters from the PEC headquarters said the village chief would be posted outside the station all day—something prohibited by election guidelines.

While she failed that part of the test, she was up to speed on how many observers would be able to fit in the station at one time (four).

In Kompong Chhnang pro­vince northwest of Phnom Penh, villagers seemed remarkably relaxed in a run-up that has been characterized as peaceful.

“None of us in the town are worried,” said 35-year-old Mgun Sophan.

PEC Chairman Siv Run reported that things had been going so well that his only real worry now was the weather.

Unfortunately, that is one performance no one today will be able to control.

(Additional reporting by Mhari Saito, Saing Soen­thrith, Steve Dahlgren and Freya Williams)


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