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Parties Seek to Help Battambang Settlers as Kandal Candidates Debate

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

Opposition party members said this week they were trying to help thousands of displaced rural settlers who want to vote out land-grabbing officials but can't, as voters in Kandal province saw open, organized political debate in the run-up to commune elections.

More than 3,000 settlers on land in Bovel village, Battambang province, have had their land sold out from under them, according to group representatives in Phnom Penh. They can't vote out land-grabbing officials because they are not registered to vote in the new communes.

Election officials have said the settlers will have to return to their home communes to vote and wait until the next commune elections, five years from now, to re-register.

But so many potential voters could mean a lot in politics so local, and representatives from the Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy parties told VOA they were working to help the settlers.

Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Chantha said the National Election Committee should create rules where people can vote at their current residences.

"The important fact is that we know the Bovel authorities are preventing them from settling there," he said. "If they leave the area, they will lose important benefits. They can choose between leaving and losing their land and farms or their right to vote."

He suggested the NEC send registrations from the original residences to the new one.

The Sam Rainsy Party was also looking for ways to help the settlers vote in the upcoming elections.

"We will… help them to be able to vote, to use their voting rights to determine their own destiny," SRP legislator Eng Chhay Eang said. Voter registration took place last year, and it is likely too late for people to change now, election officials have said. "We are sorry that the people lost their rights to vote," Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections said. "Voter registration should have been solved."

To listen to Ratana Seng report in Khmer, .

Nearly 8 million Cambodians are registered to vote in the commune elections, which will take place across 1,621 communes, or clusters of administrative areas. Thousands on thousands of candidates from 12 different parties have been stumping for votes for nearly a week during the official campaign season, which ends March 30.

Some irregularities have continued, party officials told VOA Wednesday.

SRP officials said they were concerned about the ability of some workers to leave their jobs in order to vote in their home communes.

Senior SRP member Heng Chanthuon said Wednesday that party leader Sam Rainsy had visited a group of fishermen in Krakor town, Pursat province, Tuesday who were being prevented from voting by their boss.

"He did not allow them to go home to participate in the voting and [told them] they should first finish their contracts," Heng Chanthuon said.

To listen to Mony report in Khmer, .

SRP representatives also said an opposition candidate in Phnom Penh, Im Sokunthea, was removed from his living space in Kandal Market this week in an act of political oppression by authorities.

The market's head, Kruy Sovan, said Im Sokunthea and his family moved out on their own accord.

To listen to Thida Win report in Khmer, .

Meanwhile, voters in Kandal province Tuesday watched as candidates from the Cambodian People's, Funcinpec, Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy parties partook in political debates hosted by the National Democratic Institute.

Onlookers in Ang Snuol, many of them wearing T-shirts from different parties, watched as candidates offered solutions to problems like drugs and gangs. Similar debates, which NDI representatives moderate, are scheduled in 10 provinces.

To listen to Kong Soth report in Khmer, .