Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Hun Sen leading in poll: report

CAMBODIAN VOTE The ruling party appeared to be ahead outside Phnom Penh in what one opposition leader had described as a `so far not so bad' election

AFP AND AP , PHNOM PENH

The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has won a majority of votes in 23 out of 24 provinces and cities after unofficial counting for last weekend's national elections, state-run television said yesterday.

"This is just a temporary result that we have just received," the official TVK channel said in a broadcast.

It said apart from Phnom Penh, all the other cities and provinces accounting for 111 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly had voted overwhelmingly in favour of Prime Minister Hun Sen's party.

The report gave no indication on how many seats the CPP had won.

The count began yesterday with election workers comparing the total number of ballots with voter registration lists to look for possible fraud.

Riot police wearing flak jackets and carrying shields stood guard at landmarks around the capital early yesterday.

"It's better to be cautious in preventing any turbulence," said Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

The front-runner in the polls was the CPP of Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge fighter who has been in power since 1985. It is expected to win again despite challenges from the royalist FUNCINPEC party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the Sam Rainsy Party, named for a former finance minister and banker.

Sam Rainsy, watching the vote count at a polling station, said the electoral process was "so far not so bad."

"I was worried about it last night, but fortunately nothing very serious happened," he said. "I hope this good climate, acceptable climate, will prevail until the end of the counting this afternoon."

In a televised statement Sunday, Hun Sen called for calm as the country prepared for a new government to lead one of Asia's poorest countries for the next five years.

A smooth transition would be seen as a further consolidation of Cambodia's recent democratic tradition -- good news for international donors who contribute millions of dollars every year to pay for more than half of the government's expenditure.

Sunday's voting is the third parliamentary election since the UN brokered a peace deal in 1991, beginning the process of ending decades of civil unrest including the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge genocidal rule that left about 1.7 million people dead.

The first election was held in 1993 and supervised by the United Nations. FUNCINPEC won, but was strong-armed into forming a coalition with Hun Sen.

Hun Sen wrested full power in a 1997 coup. He won the second elections in 1998 but the voting was marred by killings and widespread fear and intimidation.

A Cambodian election official estimated that voter turnout among Cambodia's 6.3 million eligible voters on Sunday was about 80 percent or slightly higher, a strong response by international standards but low compared to the previous two elections.

In 1998, up to 93 percent of voters cast ballots, said Koul Panha, head of the local election watchdog Comfrel. "We don't know yet what the factors are that caused the lower turnout."

FUNCINPEC party spokesman Neou Kassie said voter names were mixed up on registration lists and that some polling stations were shifted to new locations without notice.

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