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With Registration Closed, Parties Eye Voters

Voter registration came to a close Saturday over most of the country, allowing party leaders to look ahead to July's elections and courting potential voters.

Total registration of new voters was 750,000, the National Election Committee said Saturday.

And while some election monitors said the period should be extended, some party leaders said they were ready to look toward the elections.

Ly Sothearayuth, an official with the National Democratic Institute, said an extension for up to 10 more days would have enabled more people to register.

Puthea Hang, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the "fast speed of voter registration" meant not all NEC rules were followed, and not enough people had registered.

At least one opposition supporter said Saturday he had seen irregularities in the registration.

Different forms were given to people who declared themselves supporters of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, said Khim Sotha, a Sam Rainsy Party commune council member in Phnom Penh's Prompi Makara district.

"If people were brought by the SRP to register, [registration officials] tried to confuse them and they went home with empty hands," he said.

Kung Tharith, a commune clerk who helped with registration, denied such wrongdoings, saying he registered people "based on the law."

Meanwhile, party leaders began eying voters.

At least 2.5 million people don't support the CPP and want to make changes, Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said Saturday. But they have also become disillusioned with the opposition and with Funcinpec, the coalition partner. This should mean a groundswell of support for the Human Rights Party, he said.

The party hopes to funnel at least 50 percent of the national budget into education, which should promote jobs and improve the lives of youths, he said.

Funcinpec President Keo Puth Reaksmey blamed a low number of votes for his party in this year's local elections on "technical problems" and said his party too would woo the millions of undecided voters. Funcinpec was roundly beaten in commune elections earlier this year. It remains the ruling party's government coalition partner.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he sought a society that was pure, centered around justice. "So we have to help those who don't vote," a large number of whom would likely vote for his self-named party, he said.

Ma Sophal, chief investigator for the independent election monitor Comfrel, said a large number of people were likely to vote the status quo, even if the country has failed to develop rapidly.

"Some say nothing has been developed in their place, and some understand or see that the country right now seems relaxed, having no problems," he said.

Regardless of the registered turnout, at least some voters seemed to understand their role in the process.

"As a citizen, I have an idea that voting day is a time that every person can go to vote," said Hu Bi, a resident of the Tonle Basak neighborhood of Phnom Penh. "Whatever political party they vote for, that is their right. For me as a citizen, I must fulfill my responsibility to vote for representatives."