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Friday, July 25, 2008

Cambodia Parties in Pre-Poll Push

Cambodia Parties in Pre-Poll Push

Friday, 25 July 2008 (BBC-News UK)

Political parties in Cambodia have been holding rallies in a final campaign push before Sunday's general election.

The polls, the fourth since decades of civil war ended, are widely expected to return Prime Minister Hun Sen to power.

His main challenger is former finance minister Sam Rainsy, but few believe he will oust the man who has led Cambodia for 23 years.

The polls are taking place amid heightened nationalist sentiment over a border dispute with Thailand.

Troops from the two countries are camped on territory both claim near the 11th Century temple of Preah Vihear, which earlier this month was listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

Cambodia is due to hold talks with Thailand on the issue on Monday.

Economy key

Eleven parties are contesting the 27 July polls, but most believe the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) will secure another five-year term in power.

Under the Hun Sen-led CPP, Cambodia has achieved high growth - helped by revenue from the garment and tourist industries.

"The voters realise we did a lot - building roads, schools, health care and especially the economy," Phnom Penh Mayor Kep Chuktema told a CPP rally in the capital.

But the country is also experiencing soaring inflation and there is growing discontent over endemic corruption - both of which could favour opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

His eponymous Sam Rainsy Party currently holds 24 seats in the 123-seat parliament. The CPP has 73 and its coalition partner, royalist party Funcinpec, has 26.

Previous polls have been hit by violence. Scores of people - mainly opposition supporters and activists - were killed or beaten in the run-up to elections in 1998.

This one appears to be passing off comparatively smoothly, but rights groups have flagged up ruling party control of the media as a problem.

Human Rights Watch has also condemned the killing earlier this month of a journalist who wrote for a newspaper linked to the Sam Rainsy Party.

Both international and domestic monitors will be on hand to monitor the polls on Sunday.


Friday, 25 July 2008 (BBC News UK)

Q&A: Cambodian election

Cambodians go to the polls on 27 July for an election widely expected to return Prime Minister Hun Sen to power. The BBC looks at the parties and issues involved in the polls.

What is the current situation?

Cambodia's first general election took place in 1993, after decades of civil war. Sunday's poll will be the country's fourth.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) remains firmly in control. Its leader, one-time Khmer Rouge fighter Hun Sen, has been at the head of Cambodian politics for 23 years.

When the CPP came second in polls in 1993, he was forced into a power-sharing deal with royalist party Funcinpec, but he then seized total control in a 1997 coup. The CPP went on to secure the most votes in polls in 1998 and 2003.

The Sam Rainsy Party, named after its outspoken French-educated leader, is currently the strongest opposition force. Funcinpec - which remains in the governing coalition - appears weakened after the ouster of leader Norodom Ranariddh, who lives overseas after being convicted in absentia of breach of trust.

Are we expecting any surprises?

Not really. A total of 11 parties are contesting the polls, but the CPP looks set to win power for another five years. It has mounted a massive campaign aimed at building on its 73 seats in the 123-seat chamber - so there is a possibility it might end its coalition with Funcinpec.

The Sam Rainsy Party is popular in the capital but appears less so in rural areas.

The new Human Rights Party, led by government critic Kem Sokha, could erode some of its support. Other parties have been weakened by defections and internal fighting.

Will it be free and fair?

Polls in 1998 and, to a lesser extent, 2003 were marred by violence that mainly targeted opposition candidates and supporters. But so far campaigning for this election appears to be passing off smoothly.

However on 11 July journalist Khim Sambo, 47, and his 21-year-old son were shot and killed in Phnom Penh. Khim Sambo wrote for the Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, which is affiliated to the Sam Rainsy Party. Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that the killing appeared "intended to send a message not to engage in opposition politics".

The election build-up has also been marred by "intense and systematic efforts by the CPP to pressure opposition party members… to defect to the CPP", the rights group added in a statement. A number of Cambodian NGOs have also raised concerns about political intimidation of opposition candidates and activists.

As well as this, the CPP controls almost all media outlets in the country, giving it a strong campaign advantage. Media reports about candidates from ruling parties and opposition parties had been "quite imbalanced", the Asian Network for Free Elections said in a statement.

Several domestic and international monitors will observe the polls.

What are the main election issues?

Khmer Rouge rule left the Cambodian economy utterly devastated. But in the 30 years since the Maoist regime fell, things have steadily got better. In recent years investment has increased and both the tourist and garment industries have contributed to high economic growth - all of which favour the current government.

But the economy is currently facing a number of challenges. Rising food and fuel prices have pushed inflation to a new high, and there is growing unemployment. Cambodia's garment industry is also coming under increased competition from China and corruption blights many people's daily lives. That, a growing rich-poor divide and a culture of impunity for the rich and powerful have led to rumbling social discontent.

There is one other issue in the mix. A military stand-off with Thailand over the border temple of Preah Vihear - recently listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site - has generated a swell of nationalist pride, which is thought to give the CPP a pre-election boost.

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