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AP cites Findings of IRI Election Observers in Cambodia

July 27, 2003
Observers give tentative approval to Cambodian elections
By Daniel Lovering

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — International and local observers gave their tentative approval to Cambodia's most peaceful general elections ever on Sunday, saying they seemed to have gone well despite irregularities at some polling stations.

A grenade explosion in the capital slightly injured one person, but no other violence was reported anywhere in the country during the eight-hour balloting for a new National Assembly.

But the observers said a final evaluation will not be issued until assessments have come in from observers fanned out across the country's 20 provinces and four municipalities.

Some 600 foreign observers, including groups from the European Union and the United States, joined thousands of local monitors.

"From our reports everything has gone well, from what we have received so far. All our people are in place and they will follow tomorrow the counting," said Antonio Menezes, a spokesman for the European Union delegation.

Another main observer group came from the Washington, D.C.-based International Republican Institute, which began deploying officials in January to train representatives of political parties.

It had distributed a comic book-type manual which described their "rights and responsibilities."

"While it is evident that the Cambodian people feel very strongly about their right to vote freely, we did see some activity of concern at a number of polling stations," said IRI's Christine Todd Whitman, a former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who led 50 observers from the group.

"But it is too early to judge the overall credibility of this election until all of our reports come in," said Whitman, who visited 18 polling stations near Phnom Penh.

Kek Galabru, a human rights activist who observed the election with the local watchdog Nicfec, said the voting process seemed "all right," but that disorganization hampered voting at some of the 30 polling stations she visited in Phnom Penh and nearby Kandal province.

"The officials in each polling station tried to do their best to do their job," she said. Still, "it was a little bit of a mess."

She said the turnout was lower than expected in some areas, with "only 75 or 80 percent" of registered voters casting ballots.

Some people arrived at the polls only to find their names were left off lists of registered voters in an apparent error. "That happened to many. They didn't vote, so they went home," she said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told reporters that the fairness of the election was "mixed" but was not as bad as he had feared. His party also alleged that 300 people in two provinces couldn't vote because others had already cast ballots using their names.

Sam Rainsy accused governing Cambodian People Party activists of trying to distribute gifts to voters on Saturday night, and expressed fears that they might try to tamper with ballot boxes on Sunday night before counting begins Monday.

"Tonight can be a long night," he said. "We fear that incidents could break out. We fear attempts by the CPP to shift ballot boxes to change results of the election."

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