[Editor's note: For full audio to VOA Khmer's coverage of this story, scroll throughout.]
Millions of Cambodians went to the polls Sunday in elections that officials said had gone smoother than those in the past, but opposition leaders said the ballots must be counted correctly for the elections to be legitimate.
Voters chose from among 102,000 candidates for 11,353 council seats in 1,621 communes nationwide, with few irregularities, officials said. The commune councils are meant to decentralize government decision-making and strengthen a democratic state that has slowly been building after decades of civil strife.
The ruling Cambodian People's Party was expected to sweep many of the commune chief positions, though three other parties—Sam Rainsy, Norodom Ranariddh and Funcinpec—had fielded candidates in nearly all the communes. Candidates from eight other parties had limited representation.
Official results will be announced April 24, according to the National Election Committee.
VOA Khmer had reporters spread across the country to report on the vote, only the second of its kind since the Paris Accords in 1991. Nearly 8 million people were registered for voting that began early in the morning and lasted into the afternoon.
To listen to Part One in Khmer,
To listen to Part Two in Khmer,
Most of the leaders for the main parties said they were happy to be voting, but representatives of the new Norodom Ranariddh Party said they regretted its same-named president was not present.
Prince Ranariddh remains outside the country and faces an 18 month prison sentence on charges related to embezzlement if he returns. He has said the courts are controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his trial in absentia was unfair.
Leaders form the main parties voted in Phnom Penh, including CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum.
"I would like to tell you that local and international public opinion assess that this election is better than the previous one" in 2002, Say Chhum told VOA Sunday.
Party leaders voted alongside everyday Cambodians, who had been told in days prior to vote their conscience on secret ballots. Most voters said they had done this, with hope for a better future in mind.
"I would like to have a nation that is developed like other countries," said Phin Chantha, who works at a hospital in Phnom Penh. "Then I will be happy."
To listen to Mony report in Khmer,
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, meanwhile, cast his ballot and said the task ahead of election officials was to correctly count the vote, adding that those who did not vote Sunday had no right to complain later.
"Casting the ballots correctly, counting ballots correctly, announcing the election results which show the people's will correctly, [this will make] all of us happy," Sam Rainsy told VOA. "If we do not go out and vote, this means we let the people with power do anything they want to, and we do not have the right to complain."
To listen to Chun Sakada report in Khmer,
As polling continued through the day, VOA Khmer journalists in Washington and Cambodia provided live on-site reports.
To listen to live reports in Khmer, .
Meanwhile, descriptions of some irregularities came in from voters in rural provinces. In Kandal province, one voter said she had seen people vote up to three times each, and in Kampong Speu, a CPP deputy village chief was reportedly standing too close to the ballot boxes, urging relatives to vote for her party.
Opposition leaders said they would take these complaints to the National Election Committee.
To listen to provincial reports in Khmer,