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Cambodia Monday, 27 July, 1998, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Decision time for Cambodia
Supporters of Cambodian People's Party in Phnom Penh
Cambodians prepare to go to the polls
BBC Phnom Penh Correspondent Caroline Gluck reports on the issues at stake in Cambodia's general elections:

Caroline Gluck
Caroline Gluck
Cambodians went to the polls on 26 July in the country's first election since the United Nations-sponsored polls five years ago.

That poll cost more than $2bn - the UN's most expensive intervention in history - and was the country's first democratic election in decades.

These latest polls were the first to be organised by Cambodians themselves.

Gone are the thousands of peacekeepers and international observers - this time, there were only around 450 international observers and the vote is expected to cost around $28m.

Thirty-nine parties were contesting 122 seats in the country's National Assembly, and provisional figures show more than 98% of the potential electorate (just over 5.4 million people) have registered as voters.

Serious doubts

Cambodian voter in 1993 election
Last time around: Elections cost over $2bn
But even before the first votes were cast, there were serious doubts about the fairness and credibility of the forthcoming election.

Although several opposition parties threatened to boycott the polls - complaining that the electoral process was biased in favour of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (the CPP) - all decided to continue to take part in the elections, saying they were taking their lead from the huge numbers of people who registered to vote.

The international community - including the European Union, The Association of South-East Asian Nations, and Japan, who are all helping to fund the polls - also made clear it wanted the election to go ahead on schedule.

But the same foreign donors also admitted they were extremely concerned by the country's political climate - where voter intimidation and political violence continues.

Unpunished crimes

In addition, none of those responsible for serious political crimes have been arrested or brought to justice.

Election rallies draw supporters of all ages
Listening to the candidates: Peace is a key pledge for all parties
This includes those responsible for the murder of up to 100 people, largely supporters of Cambodia's ousted first Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, since he was toppled from power last July.

The Cambodia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has received reports of 11 politically-related killings since mid-May this year, and is investigating more than 140 cases of intimidation of opposition supporters.

Other problems which affected the credibility of the polls included the lack of access of opposition parties to the electronic media, which is controlled by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and other parties allied to it.

Key legal bodies - including the National Election Committee - which organised the polls - and the Constitutional Council, the country's supreme legal institution, which rules on electoral disputes - are weighted with members belonging to the CPP.

Progress report

For many, the poll was the first chance for ordinary Cambodians to publicly voice what they thought of second Prime Minister Hun Sen's power-grab last July, when he ousted his former coalition partner, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, following two days of fighting in the Cambodian capital.

According to Prince Ranariddh, the central issue of this election is clear: voters are deciding whether Cambodia travels on the democratic path or is ruled by a totalitarian-style government.

Cambodian monks on a pre-election 'peace  walk'
Cambodian monks on a pre-election 'peace walk'
For its part, the government can claim that the country is more secure and stable than at any other time in its recent past.

During the 1993 election, around 10% of the country was still controlled by the outlawed guerrilla group, the Khmer Rouge.

But with the movement decimated, following the death of its former leader, Pol Pot, and mass defections, former Khmer Rouge zones are now under government control.

As a result, former Khmer Rouge families and soldiers will be able to vote in the elections for the first time.

Shared issues

Many Cambodians will be looking for politicians who can bring an end to conflict
Cambodians will be looking for an end to conflict
Party policies have almost been obscured in the tense political climate, but several key issues are shared by many: peace and national reconciliation; development and poverty alleviation.

Other issues raised were tackling corruption, halting the illegal immigration of Vietnamese citizens into Cambodia and environmental protection.

While many analysts believe the election result is a foregone conclusion - others note that the CPP was widely predicted to have won the last elections - but it was Prince Ranariddh's Royalist party which gained the majority of votes.

They say no-one should underestimate the will of the Cambodian people.

BBC News
Listen to the sounds of a Cambodian election rally
BBC News
Caroline Gluck reports on the final days of campaigning
BBC News
UN Representative to Cambodia, Thommas Hammerberg: "it is dangerous to be politically active"
BBC News
Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen: "I hope the Cambodian people will vote for the party they want"
BBC News
Listen to a Cambodian election broadcast
Links to more Cambodia stories are at the foot of the page.

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Links to more Cambodia stories

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