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For One Woman, a Journey Into Politics

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining the role of women in politics.]

Chhan Samnang came to Phnom Penh in 1979 as a vendor of fried banana cakes, following the collapse of the Khmer Rogue. Now 51 years old, Chhan Samnang is a commune council member in Phnom Penh's Russei Keo district. If possible, she plans to do even more, by entering national politics one day.

Chhan Samnang is one example of the few women in local politics, where only 15 percent of commune council members are women. Even so, she one day hopes to be a representative at the national level, where 22 of the 123 members of the National Assembly are women.

Chhan Samnang became interested in politics when she met opposition leader Sam Rainsy at a market, in 1996. After speaking to him, she decided to join his party, then called the Khmer National Party, the precursor to Sam Rainsy's eponymous party. She became an activist and won a seat as a first deputy council member in 2002, winning again in commune elections in 2007.

Her leg has been disfigured, by polio, since she was a young girl, and she is sometimes criticized for her disability. But she does not care what people say, she told VOA Khmer in an interview. She prefers to show her abilities, rather than dwell on her disability.

One day, Chhan Samnang hopes to run as a member of parliament, but for this year's general election, she is campaigning for her party and remaining a local representative of her commune. If she has the ability to go further, she said, she will.