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Vandalism, Intimidation Appear for Election Season

[Editor's note: For full audio to VOA Khmer's coverage of this story, scroll throughout.]

As the Cambodian election season ramps up, some parties say they are facing unfair impediments, with signs torn down and supporters shut down, with less than two weeks before Election Day.

Nearly 8 million Cambodians will go to the polls April 1 to select local commune leaders, in elections meant to decentralize governmental power and strengthen democracy.

Cambodian elections are typically a time of increased violence and intimidation, and lengthy interviews by VOA Khmer with various party leaders suggest this season will likely be no different.

Activists for the Norodom Ranariddh Party saw signs torn down in Kampot and Kampong Cham provinces following what they call a surge of support in both provinces.

To listen to Chun Sakada report in Khmer, .

"These people destroyed the posters, and the persons who were nearby did not notice the action," NRP candidate Mak Oeung told VOA by phone. "My side of the party is strong. I was with Funcinpec previously, but later I left the party and joined the Norodom Ranariddh Party. All the strong people follow me."

A local election committee representative, Yim Ran, told VOA he was investigating.

Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy Party supporters say a military commander in Koh Kong province stopped a political procession for an hour after the group tried to rally inside one area where land-grabbing was an issue.

Military and government officials are increasingly taking land from the rural poor, a situation that has become highly politicized in this election.

National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nitha told VOA he had not heard of the Kon Kong incident, but in general groups should seek permission first before rallying in public areas.

Parties should notify the NEC, so it "can provide security," he said.

These elections have 12 separate parties in them. And while only the Cambodian People's Party, Funcinpec, SRP and NRP have nationwide campaigns, many of the smaller parties are carving niches for themselves in select areas.

The Khmer National Party, for example, told VOA it was against corruption and was campaigning on a platform to pass anti-corruption legislation that has been around since 1994. Land grabbing was also an area of concern, party leader Sum Sitha said.

To listen to Mony report in Khmer, .

Funcinpec, meanwhile, is campaigning on its royalist roots, said Keo Puth Reaksmey, head of the party. The principles of a free constitutional monarchy remain, as well as support for the king, the promotion of people's interests, social freedom and economic development, he said.

To listen to Reaksmey Heng report in Khmer, .

The Sangkum Jatiniyun Front Party will be the rule of law, party delegate Prince Sisowath Thomico has said.

The party, which was put together this year from a handful of smaller parties, wants "a society that people love, taking the international level as a standard," he told VOA as the elections kicked off Friday. "The party's priority is to implement the law."

To listen to Mony report in Khmer, .