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Hun Sen Appeals to Nation to Vote

In his last speech ahead of an election campaign period that begins Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Cambodians to vote, no matter their party preference.

Speaking at the opening of a development center in Pursat province, Hun Sen told voters a high rate of participation was good for democracy.

"Please go to vote all together, to express your opinion," Hun Sen said. "This is our right of expression. We must show our participation in the decision of choosing parties and leaders."

Hun Sen has said he will remain silent during the one-month campaign period, a traditional time of mass rallies and public marches by competing political parties. There are 11 parties slated to compete for parliamentary seats in this election.

More than 8.1 million Cambodians are registered to vote in the July 27 election, but the 2007 commune elections saw the lowest participation rate ever, less than 70 percent. The first national elections following the Paris Peace Accords, in 1993, saw a turnout greater than 90 percent.

"If the rate of participation is low, that means democracy is down, because people do not care about voting to choose a good leader," said Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho. "That's why they encourage people to go vote as much as possible."