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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cambodians Vote in Parliamentary Polls

Cambodians wait in line for voting at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodians Vote in Parliamentary Polls

PHNOM PENH, July 27 (Alalam.ir)--Cambodians voted on Sunday in an election likely to bestow another five-year term on long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose standing has been boosted by a nationalist spat with Thailand over a 900-year-old temple.

The 15,000 polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0001 GMT) for eight hours of balloting, conducted under the eyes of 13,000 domestic and international observers.

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.

In the run up to the elections, both the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) jumped on the dispute surrounding the Preah Vihear ruins, which sit on a jungle-clad escarpment separating the two southeast Asian countries.

The CPP currently has 73 seats, and under new rules party officials say they expect to cinch at least eight more.

However, the nationalist fervor is unlikely to affect the outcome of a vote almost certain to hand another five years in power to Prime Minister Hun Sen, a one-eyed, 57-year-old ex-Khmer Rouge guerrilla and premier for the past 23 years.

"The electoral process, the campaign went smoothly, voting and I hope the counting will also be smooth," Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters shortly after voting.

The CPP is so confident of victory it has scheduled talks over Preah Vihear with Thailand's foreign minister in the tourist town of Siem Reap, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex, on Monday (July 28).

But Hun Sen declined to comment on the talks.

"The electoral law does not allow me to speak in the polling station," said Hun Sen as reporters asked him about the outcome of the talks.

The meeting is not expected to make major headway in resolving the dispute, which is mainly over 1.8 square miles (4.6 square km) of scrubland near the temple.

The ruins themselves are claimed by both countries but were awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

Analysts say Thai domestic politics are mainly to blame for the row, which flared up after Cambodia's successful bid to have the ruins listed as a World Heritage site.

Bangkok's initial support for the heritage listing was seized on by anti-government groups in their long-running attempt to unseat the Thai government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

His foreign minister was forced to resign over the issue.

There have been no major incidents so far, but both sides have sent troops and artillery to dig in near the temple and nearby Thai border villages are braced for conflict.

Eleven of Cambodia's 57 parties are contesting for the 123 seats in the house of representatives. The European Union is sending 130 observers to monitor the election in which 8.1 million people are registered to vote.

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