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Poll position

Poll position

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party appears set to sweep national elections held Sunday, party officials said at the close of polls.

The CPP has unofficially gained seven additional parliamentary positions, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told the Post, giving it claim to 80 of the National Assembly's 123 seats.

Ballots are still being counted, "but the number of CPP seats is expected to go up," he said.

Official results are not expected for a least a week in a vote that was largely overshadowed by the Kingdom's escalating border dispute with Thailand at Preah Vihear.

The military buildup on the border over disputed territory around the temple has brought Cambodia and Thailand to its worst diplomatic crisis since rioters looted and burned the Thai embassy in 2003.

While opposition political parties have accused the ruling CPP of trying to mine the standoff for votes, many at polling stations in Phnom Penh said the situation highlighted the need for Cambodian leaders who would protect the country's sovereignty.

"I'm voting for a different reason this time – my choice is for a government that can protect Preah Vihear temple," said 76 year-old Hok Hour in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district.

"Whoever can make the Thai troops withdraw from our land, we will choose him," he added.

Another voter, Ky Seak Tang, also said that Preah Vihear was the main motivation for her going to the polls. "I vote for a government that can forever protect Preah Vihear," she said.

Despite a surge of nationalism over the temple row, however, voter turnout in several key polling places appeared lower than normal, while complaints have begun to emerge that thousands of names have been mysteriously eliminated from voter registration lists.

In Phnom Penh's Mohosrop polling station about 50 percent of the names were erased from the voter lists, said Bun Rado, who name was also missing.

"We all voted in the 2007 [commune elections] but we turned up today and our names were not on the list. Many people are angry and are driving from station to station to try and find their names," he told the Post.

Election monitors acknowledged that there had been problems with voter rolls, but pointed towards bureaucratic mix-ups rather than political conspiracies as the reason for people not appearing on registration lists.

"As expected, there has been a problem of people not having the right information and thus not being able to vote," said one monitor from the Cambodian election watchdog Comfrel.

The monitor added that hundreds of names appeared to be missing from some lists.

"People should not blame themselves for this – it is not the voter's responsibility to make sure 100 percent that they can vote. It is fair enough to assume that if you voted in the previous commune election, that your name should be on the list," the monitor said.

National Election Committee officials said many people who could not vote had either incorrectly listed their names on voter rolls or had moved to another area and failed to inform the authorities.

"They had two months to complain or to verify their names on the lists but they didn't do this," said NEC member Mao Sophearith. "Maybe they missed the information, but the NEC cannot do anything about this."

The election, the fourth since Cambodia's UN-brokered vote in 1993, is expected to see the CPP – buoyed by a strong economy and surging national sentiment – win total control of government after more than a decade of sharing power under various coalition agreements.

One CPP official who did not want to be named said the ruling party wants to increase its number of parliamentary seats to 93. Ten other parties are contesting the elections.

Leaders with two of Cambodia's main opposition parties have already cried foul, saying the CPP was manipulating the voter lists to ensure that only its supporters went to the polls.

"Several thousands of people have lost their names from the lists," Sam Rainsy told a crowd of supporters at his party headquarters in Phnom Penh.

"The election is only held to support the CPP ... the CPP and the commune chiefs have conspired together," he added.

Kem Sokha, whose Human Rights Party is one of the newest additions to Cambodia's political arena, also complained about incomplete voter rolls, saying that turnout had been unusually low.

"The National Election Committee says there are more than eight million voters but some of those people are listed two or three times each ... there are fewer voters turning out," he said.

Despite problems over voter lists, election observers say there has been little of the violence or intimidation that has marred past polls, however they admit that there are not enough monitors to cover every voting booth.

"If you want to know about manipulations, I have not seen anything," said one European Union election monitor who did not want to be named.

"But even though we are right here you cannot guarantee that there will be no manipulations.... You can always manipulate something if you want. We are not so organized that we can see every polling station in the whole of Cambodia." 

International rights groups maintain that the CPP has waged an intimidation campaign ahead of the polls that has deterred many voters from opposing it. On the night before the vote an SRP radio station was closed by the police, while Sam Rainsy has claimed that several party members have been arrested.

"At the polling station where I am, security is good," he told voters in Kampong Cham province. "The places where there are observers are working fine. But anywhere without an international observer, we are worried about."


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