Thu, Jul 17, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Racing toward democracy

For the first time in a national election in Cambodia, voters are getting a chance to question their candidates

AP , BATTAMBANG, CAMBODIA

Muy Chat, the candidate from Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, reminds the audience that the party guided the country from the murderous wreckage wrought by the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s to today's peace and stability.

For Cambodia, where poverty is just a fact of life, this is the crucial issue for some people. The final embers of the 18-year civil war were extinguished only in 1998 when the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed. Battambang province had been a front-line area vulnerable to guerrilla attacks.

``I wonder if any of your parties will do anything to cause bloodshed again if it loses the election?'' Khi Meng Lim, a 29-year-old mother, asks the candidates.

As a former refugee who spent most of her childhood in a border camp, she says later that she's nervous about the uncertainty that might come after polling day.

``I used to run from war. And I don't want to have to pack up and run again without enough rice to eat,'' she says.

One by one, the candidates assure her that their parties will respect the people's will and won't unravel the hard-won peace.

Daeng Ly, a 62-year-old carpenter who enjoyed the novelty of politicians being held at least temporarily answerable to the people, compared the event to buying gems.

``If there is only one gemstone in front of you, you cannot tell if it's really the best. But when there are several on offer, you can make the best choice to pick,'' he says.

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