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Outside Parties Report Campaign Obstacles

[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 difficulties faced by each of the 11 competing parties.]

Less than two weeks away from Election Day, only the ruling Cambodian People's Party and its coalition partner Funcinpec say they face zero obstacles to their campaigns. Nine other parties, large and small, have complained of irregularities and other constraints plaguing their efforts.

Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Chantha said the party has faced difficulties in the distribution of leaflets and knock-downs of political signs, from the capital to the provinces.

His activists have not been able to distribute platform information in Phnom Penh markets, Muth Chantha said, a complaint shared by other parties, especially the Human Rights, Sam Rainsy and the Khmer Democratic parties.

The greatest challenge, though, has been the absence of the party's leader, he said.

"The first challenge for us is the absence of Prince Norodom Ranariddh," Muth Chantha said. "It means we aren't equally armed in the campaign."

Human Rights Party Vice President Keo Remy said the main challenges to his party were "threats."

Activists have been threatened in Kampong Cham, Prey Veng and Kampong Speu provinces, as well as in the capital, Keo Remy said, including threats from village chiefs.

Violence, injuries and verbal threats have all been reported by his activists, he said.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said that in the face of such irregularities, the party has minimum liberties.

"We don't expect the election will be free and fair," he said. "And we don't have confidence in the National Election Committee."

Ny Chakrya, chief investigator for the rights group Adhoc, noted that the pressure of campaign irregularities has mostly come against parties outside of the government.

"Even though we have not noted many irregularities compared to previous elections, the ruling party has tried to disturb the opposition, like knocking down political signs, and this requires efficient action by the NEC."

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nith said that there are irregularities, but they are the same reported in previous elections: sign knock-downs, threats, vote-buying.

"But there aren't any political threats, and now we are investigating some cases for which we've received complaints," he said.

CPP lawmaker Chiem Yeap said the ruling party faced no challenges in the campaign. It had facilities to conduct a campaign across the country, presenting its political platform for voters and holding meetings.

One challenge was that Funcinpec had attacked the CPP "like the opposition," he said.

Prince Sisowath Sereyroth, second deputy of Funcinpec, said the party had no problems in the first weeks of the campaign, "because we do not attack any parties."

"Of course, technical problems are unavoidable," he said. Funcinpec instead faced budget problems, he said.

Small parties too face budget constraints as they campaign.