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Election Monitor Notes Intimidation as NEC Warns Gift-Givers

Small incidents have marred the commune elections so far, an election observer told VOA listeners Monday, as a government election official warned parties not to buy votes with gifts.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, took questions from "Hello VOA" listeners Monday, and Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, spoke to VOA Khmer by phone.

Comfrel is an independent election watchdog that has witnessed candidate intimidation and suspects the ruling Cambodian People's Party of using money from the national budget to fund its own candidates.

Koul Panha said Monday his group had recorded about 100 verbal attacks between parties competing for commune council positions, as well as instances where political signboards were torn down.

The elections are meant to decentralize the government's power structure, but so far that change has been slow, Koul Panha said. Real change won't likely be felt until as far away as the 2012 elections, as Cambodia's democratic processes grow.

Any political candidate that tries to buy votes with gifts will be removed from the elections, Tep Nitha said.

The CPP has faced accusations of vote-buying in recent days, but so far is not under formal investigation by the NEC.

Villagers might take gifts, Tep Nitha said, but their votes will be secret when they cast their ballot in a private box.

Voters told VOA earlier this week that sometimes they took gifts from CPP officials, but that didn't mean they had to vote for them.