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Special Report

Hun Sen tipped to retain power

Cambodian National Election Committee officials carry a ballot box on a motorbike yesterday as they prepare for today

Cambodian National Election Committee officials carry a ballot box on a motorbike yesterday as they prepare for today

Almost 10 million eligible Cambodian voters cast their ballots today and most are expected to endorse Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) for a further term.

Many young voters admit that they may not be able to bring a change into the politics just yet.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen may have led the country to economic development but compared with other neighbouring countries, we are still behind. In a real democratic country, leaders hold power for two terms. He has held power too long," Kim Vannak, a 19-year-old, a first-year university student and first-time voter said.

Chet Sopol, a 27-year-old electrician, said he would vote for the opposition. "There is widespread corruption and PM Hun Sen allows too many Vietnamese into the country, so there are less jobs for young Cambodians. But, it's a pity that our votes cannot bring about major change," he said, inferring that the electoral system and other factors favour the ruling party.

Hun Sen, Asia's longest-serving prime minister, has run the country for 28 years. He has voiced an intent to retain power for at least another decade.

His major rival in this election is Sam Rainsy and his Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was popular among the young generation.

Cambodia's young voters are a raising force in electorate, as one third of the 9.67 million eligible voters are aged from 18-30 years old.

The CPP has tried to woo young voters through its CPP Youth Movement campaign, and of course, not everyone is calling for change.

Children of government leaders are also joining the poll this time.

Hun Many, 30, the youngest of Hun Sen's three sons, is the head of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, a CPP youth wing. He is a first-time candidate for Parliament.

Ngan Ka, a university student who joined the CPP Youth movement voluntarily, said: "Why do we need change? Cambodia already has a good leader who has lead our country to prosperity.

Res Sony, another first-time voter, 21, said: "I don't know the CPP's policy but I like PM Hun Sen. He's a fighter who brings peace to Cambodia. The opposition party has no experience; I don't believe they can lead the country like PM Hun Sen does."

Sony has a Sony Ericsson phone, he uses it to post campaign rally pictures on Facebook to support the CPP.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who returned from exile just over a week ago after a royal pardon for a controversial court conviction, was not able to stand in the election. He doubted that the poll would be conducted in free and fair manner.

"Since we won't have a free and fair election, you can expect people will be frustrated when there is a proclamation that the ruling party has won," Sam Rainsy said in an interview with The Nation.

The opposition leader said he agreed with the UN Special Rapporteur in Cambodia who warned there was the risk of violence if the election is not free and fair.

"If the election cannot channel the popular discontent in a proper way, the people will be really disappointed. People may use all kinds of means to get heard."

When asked if he would seek to re-enter politics, Sam Rainsy said: "We will see, first, the extent of election cheating.

"We might call for another election, new election that would be in line with UN recommendations, in line with independent and human rights organisations [and what they have said about the system being unfair]."

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Cambodia's electoral process is marred by systematic problems that prevent the election from being free and fair.

Problems with the electoral process include: unequal media access for opposition parties; pro-CPP bias within the national and local electoral apparatus; the lack of an independent and impartial dispute resolution mechanism; alleged manipulation of voter rolls to allow "ghost" voters and exclude opposition voters; and campaigning by senior security forces officers for the CPP, it said.

"The entire process is biased in favour of the ruling party and against the opposition," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "What should result in the will of the people has been organised to result in the will of the Cambodian People's Party."






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