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Cambodia sets up polling stations; Government critics call for election boycott



PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – At the Toul Cork Elementary School in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, volunteers swept classrooms and put on wooden desks on Saturday, turning rooms into voting booths before the parliamentary elections of Prime Minister Hun Sen were easy to win ,

"I think voters are going to vote," Yos Vanthan, head of the school's election committee, told Reuters.

Hun Sen's critics have called for an election boycott, saying that without real opposition to the government, the election will be a shame.

The vote is not compulsory, but the authorities have warned that anyone who boycotted the vote is considered a "traitor."

Nineteen political parties are running against Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), but none are keen on the prime minister or the government.

His biggest challenge was the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which narrowly lost the last elections in 201

3. It was dissolved by the Supreme Court last year, and many of its legislators were banned from politics for five years.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who eventually turned away from Pol Pot's murderous regime, has been in power for more than 30 years and the world's longest-serving prime minister.

Many CNRP leaders have fled abroad and live in self-imposed exile and their leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested in September for high treason. Hun Sen, who has ruled for 33 years, has no significant opponent.

Some Western countries and the United Nations have questioned the credibility of the election because there was no significant opposition. Human rights groups have criticized the limitations of independent media and civil society.

Officials say they are not expecting violence on election day, but last week the authorities showed a demonstration of power in which the police offered anti-riot equipment and assault rifles in the capital to prevent any street protests.

An election worker cleans a classroom that will be used as a polling station before dialing in on 28 July 2018 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. REUTERS / Darren Whiteside

The police arrested four farmers on Saturday and charged them with planting a grenade at a polling station in the country's northern province of Preah Vihear, police commissioner Ying Samnang said in a police report. The device has not exploded.

Dim Sovannarom, a National Election Committee spokesman who inspected the Toul Kork Elementary School in Boeung Kak 1 community Saturday, said the commission expected more than 60 percent of registered voters to vote.

Nearly 70 percent voted in the last parliamentary elections in 2013.

"We expect more than 60 percent across the country," Dim Sovannarom told reporters before revealing the gray metal polling stations donated by the Japanese government.

But some Cambodians do not see any sense in voting and low voter turnout could undermine CPP legitimacy.

"Why should I choose? It makes no difference," said a cab driver from the southwestern province of Takeo. He declined to be named for fear of repercussions.

Mu Sochua, Deputy CNRP President, said that any country that does not denounce the elections can not call itself democratic.

"Any country that supports or hesitates to condemn the election as a show should not be on the side of democracy," Mu Sochua told Reuters.

Critics, including the exiled opposition, have called for targeted sanctions against the Hun Sen government and its allies after cracking down in the run-up to the elections.

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed a long-awaited Cambodia Democracy Act paving the way for sanctions against the inner circle of Hun Sen.

This week, Japan said that despite numerous elections in the past, it would not send election observers.

Slideshow (4 pictures)

Text by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Edited by Shri Navaratnam and Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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