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Battambang: no killings, less intimidation, more vote-buying

Battambang: no killings, less intimidation, more vote-buying

The 2003 election period in Battambang, the country's second most populous province, saw likely no political killings and fewer cases of intimidation, but around twice as many cases of vote-buying.

That is according to human rights NGO ADHOC, which also noted a sharp decline in the number of registered voters who turned out to cast their ballots on election day. That trend was in line with much of the rest of the country.

ADHOC's provincial coordinator, Yim Mengly, said only 84 percent of registered voters-some 412,000 people-had turned out on July 27. Comfrel figures showed that around 93 percent voted in the province in 1998. The rate across the country this time was 81 percent, down also from 93 percent.

The NGO registered one political killing in the province in the last general election, and is investigating two deaths this time. However it doubts either of them was politically motivated.

Mengly ascribed the drop in voter turnout to menacing campaign tactics by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) during the approach to election day, and confusion among voters on the day itself. He said threats of violence and widespread vote-buying were used to keep people away.

He said uniformed police, campaigning on behalf of the CPP, were common. Voters had also faced difficulties finding their names on the voting lists, and many were unable to find the correct polling station on election day.

ADHOC noted that the number of cases of 'gift-giving' doubled this year. Although the ruling party claimed it gave donations only to party activists, Mengly said it was clear that money and sarongs had also been handed out to voters.

"The CPP has created such a good strategy of distributing gifts and making promises that it was able to win five seats in Battambang," he said.

Election monitoring NGO Comfrel said it had recorded similar problems in the province, and said the pattern was echoed across the country. Comfrel reported two killings, 16 cases of intimidation, and three cases of vandalism during the campaign period.

By August 25, the Provincial Election Commission (PEC) had received 98 complaints related to election irregularities, 84 of which it had handled. The remainder would be cleared up by mid-September.

The deputy chief of the PEC, Vorn Pon, who is also a member of the CPP, did not feel the problems were serious. His investigations had revealed that the ruling party had handed out gifts only to party activists. He claimed also that both Funcinpec and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) had secretly distributed gifts.

"The CPP is more open about gift giving," he explained.

However, Sor Chandeth, assistant to SRP's first candidate in Battambang, said the election body was merely whitewashing the results for the ruling party.

"We are not satisfied with PEC's solutions to our complaints," he said. "They merely solved problems to secure a good image, while in fact the solutions mean nothing. We don't believe in them."

That opinion was shared by Funcinpec's number two candidate in the province, Ki Lum Ang.

"They are from the CPP," she said of the PEC staff, "so the one they serve must also be the CPP."

Besides intimidation and the distribution of gifts, the SRP's Chandeth said he had witnessed many police officials campaigning during office hours to influence voters, a clear violation of the Electoral Law.

In 1998, the CPP won three seats, while Funcinpec and the SRP took three and two respectively. This time the CPP won five, with the SRP keeping its two, and Funcinpec reduced to one.

The CPP's provincial leader, So Sokun, said the party had not used favors to win votes.

"We are not a stick of sugarcane that is sweet only at the end. Instead the whole stick is sweet," he said, adding that the ruling party had been helping people long before the election campaign.

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