Chamkar Mon Voters Put Aside Their Fears to Cast Ballots

In the early morning hours of Election Day, many Cambodians awoke with a stomach ache. The pain of anticipation had many voters wondering whether their political choice would make the difference between life and death.

Cambodians casting votes at Chamkar Mon district’s Anuwat primary school said they were re­lieved not to see armed military officers guarding ballot boxes but still questioned whether they would be punished for selecting a new man to lead their country.

“I looked on the left, on the right and behind me. I still didn’t trust that my vote was private because the window was open,” said a 46-year-old pharmacist.

Voting booths at the Anuwat school consisted of three-sided metal partitions backed into two of the classroom’s four corners. Dozens of people peered inside the classroom waiting for their turn to vote, while many others milled near the booths.

The pharmacist said he be­came nervous after hearing that a satellite would take pictures of his ballot and that the Interior Minis­try had 30 dogs prepared to crack down on demonstrations.

A Voice of America radio interview with human rights workers broadcast Saturday night did assuage some fears, he said.

“They said they have US support and that there was no satellite, so I didn’t hesitate so long to come,” he said. The pharmacist said he voted for the Sam Rainsy Party.

Lowering her voice, university student Ratanak Phann, 20, said she feared for her life Sunday morning.

“I’m scared because someone could kill me. But I want a new government and I’ve done it,” she said, holding up her ink-stained index finger. Looking behind her, Ratanak Phann whispered that Sam Rainsy had her vote.

A waiter at a Phnom Penh restaurant said he walked to the polling station with a knot in his stomach.

“I woke up and thought: ‘Today is the day I choose a new leader,’” said the 26-year-old, who identified himself as Vy. He de­clined to say which party he supported but said the pain had subsided since he voted.

Cambodia’s rumor mill worked overtime in the run-up to the election, circulating stories about an alleged satellite and that police would follow voters home and rice donations would not be distributed if people did not vote for the CPP.

This is not the first election that a fabled satellite has scared voters. Rumors of an aerial spy were born during the 1993 Untac election, when a flood of previously un­known laptops, walkie-talkies and Land Cruisers cultivated stories of hidden observers, said Documentation Center of Cam­bo­dia Director Youk Chhang. “The satellite’s become a joke, but voters are still cautious,” he said.

With no Untac to run the show, Cambodians have become more self-reliant and sophisticated since 1998, Youk Chhang said. This independence may affect voters in two ways.

“They could fear [their independence] but they’re also going to feel they’re a part of something. People are more aware of how to protect themselves,” he said.

Ellen Minotti, a social worker with the Social Services of Cam­bodia NGO, said the anxiety Cam­bodians are experiencing likely stems from a fear of the unknown and feelings of powerlessness.

“People that don’t have the option of leaving are feeling vulnerable because they have no­where to go and they don’t know what’s going to happen. It wakes up that feeling of not being in charge,” she said. “People are particularly vulnerable to insecurity because of what happened to them in the past.”


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