CAMBODIANS interviewed on polling day ecstatically basked in their right to vote,
declaring unanimously that they felt free from intimidation when they ticked the
party of their choice behind the cardboard screens set up in polling stations.
One 46-year-old rice merchant interviewed at a polling station on the outskirts of
Phnom Penh was typical of many spoken to by the Post. He described voting as a "fair
procedure" and said, "I was able to follow my own mind."
But the freedom to choose did not make voters feel any safer to announce their decisions
in public. Like the results of several pre-election opinion polls, more than half
of those interviewed nervously declined to answer exit-poll inquiries.
"I cannot tell you. This is an issue of personal security. Even if we were close
friends I could not tell you," the rice dealer said. "Maybe after six months
or a year and there are no problems, then I could tell you."
A 34-year-old market stall owner voting at the same station explained that although
there were no threats or violence on polling day, she was still edgy that an explosion
could occur at any time after the election as parties winning National Assembly seats
tried to form a coalition.
"I am still worried about violence after the election because there are many
parties and they don't get along with each other," she said.
Despite her worries, she was one of a handful of voters who revealed her vote - Funcinpec.
"Since [Prince Norodom Ranariddh] returned in 1993 we have had freedom and peace,"
she said. "Also it was easier to run my business after 1993. But since last
July my business has suffered."
Another who supported the royalist party, a 30-year-old cyclo driver, looked much
farther back in time when he explained his selection. "My parents lived under
[then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk's] Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime and they told me that
the country was peaceful and prosperous at the time," he said. "Since then
we have been in trouble."
Those Cambodians who disclosed that they had voted for the CPP seemed to pair the
ruling party with visions of stability and tranquillity. "I hope that after
the election there will be peace in the country and that the government will improve
the living conditions of the people," said a 40-year-old farmer's wife in Kandal
None of the CPP supporters said they had been intimidated into choosing the party.
One stated: "I don't even care which party wins... [but] I like them. I like
all the leaders of the CPP."
In contrast, Sam Rainsy Party supporters expressed displeasure with the government
and economy. The word that often escaped from their lips as they whispered their
explanation - "change".
"I hope my life will change for the better if Sam Rainsy is elected," a
49-year-old barber said at a Phnom Penh polling station. "It is time for a change.
The CPP has been in power a long time and now someone else should have a chance."