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Poll position

Poll position

Heng Chivoan

The campaign season began today with all the major parties making a showing on the streets of Phnom Penh.

Bedecked convoys of trucks and motorbikes honking and hauling

flag-waving political party activists further crowded Phnom Penh’s

congested streets on Thursday, letting Cambodia know its official

election campaign season had begun.

Eleven parties are courting votes for the July 27 general election,

hoping to gain position if not power in parliament for the next five

years; only the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, with insider influence

and money to spare, is expected to dominate.

While reports of political violence and intimidation are far

fewer than previous election cycles, opposition parties, rights groups

and observers all have charged that the CPP’s stranglehold on the

media, along with a series of relatively subtle acts of coercion,

threatens the election’s credibility.

Thousands packed CPP headquarters early Thursday morning, where the

party’s 57th anniversary celebration coincided with the campaign

launch. Party President Chea Sim claimed improved stability, economy,

infrastructure and standards of living as CPP achievements and urged

civility in all quarters during the election run-up.

"I believe the elections will go smoothly and successfully and be free

and fair,” he told the crowd, before it broke into droves and took to

the streets.

Chea Sim’s sentiment was not echoed among the CPP’s challengers, but,

caught up in the roving mayhem that was Thursday’s electioneering,

opposition activists spoke optimistically.

"I hope that Funcinpec will get 70 percent in the national election,”

said 67-year-old Reach Li Nga, whose party has been racked by

infighting and defections since the last elections in 2003.

Traffic snarls aside, Day 1 went without incident.

Lun Chheng Kay, president of the Phnom Penh Election Committee, said

that this election cycle has so far progressed more smoothly than those

in the past. He attributed the calm to an improved understanding of

campaign decorum.

"I hope and trust all the political parties will not make problems during the campaign,” Chheng Kay said.

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