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In Pre-Election Quiet, Voters Prepare to Be Heard

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

Hundreds of displaced villagers now living 20 kilometers West of Phnom Penh say they will take their grievances to the polls Sunday, as the National Election Committee lauded a smooth campaign period.

Cambodia was relatively quiet Saturday following a 15-day period of campaigning by 12 parties nationwide. It was a day of rest before Sunday's polls, and no campaigning was allowed. On Sunday, though, 14,428 polling stations will be open across the country, to receive the ballots of nearly 8 million registered voters.

The election of commune leaders is meant to decentralize national government power, though in reality many commune chiefs take their marching orders from national party leadership. Still, voters said Saturday they were ready to make their voices heard, and at least one organization reminded Cambodians to vote their conscience.

To listen to Part One in Khmer, .

To listen to Part Two in Khmer, .

Evicted residents now living in Andoung Thmey village say less than 500 families have been able to register, out of nearly 1,500 families evicted from Phnom Penh in 2006. Those who can vote say they will try to make their new commune a better one.

"We have problems with food, fish, rice, water," Hou Vanny, a vendor, told VOA. "When it rains, it floods, because there are no sewers. We want to vote for leaders so our commune will prosper."

Representatives from the four main political parties—the Cambodian People's, Sam Rainsy, Norodom Ranariddh and Funcinpec—had paid visits, residents said.

Keo Sochea, a young woman with a newborn baby, said a vote for the right leader might help the plight of the villagers, who, like many displaced, have been moved to areas too far from basic necessities.

"For some of us who are destitute, [the leaders] will help us to own some land, get water and electricity," she said.

"The election of commune leaders will help us to own some land, get water and electricity," she said.

But Keo Sochea's husband, a construction worker, was less optimistic about the power of commune councils to do anything at all.

"I am in need. If I do not go to work and miss one day, it is like not having food to eat for one day," he said. "I do not pay attention to the election. I will not go, and I will not regret that. I don't know whom to vote for."

To listen to Mean Veasna report in Khmer,

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha told VOA Saturday the campaign period had good smoothly, especially compared to the 2002 commune election. Of 102,000 candidates, 21 percent were women, he said.

There are 11,353 commune council seats up for grabs, he said, and the elections will have 8,900 officials, 1,900 local observers from 33 NGOs, and more than 200 international observers.

To listen to Heng Reaksmey report in Khmer,

The Sam Rainsy Party said late Saturday night police had detained their top Battambang official.

To listen to Khemara Sok report in Khmer,

Meanwhile, the Cambodian Youth Council urged all registered voters to go to the polls, reminding them that the ballots were secret and they should vote their conscience.

"Please do not worry," said Mark Sarath, a CYC coordinator. "The vote is a secret. No one will ever know who you voted for."

To listen to Chun Sakada report in Khmer, .