It started in the morning with a crush and ended with a straggle.
Eager Phnom Penh voters stood in line at 7 am, shading themselves from the morning sun, then mashed themselves in polling station doorways for a chance to cast their ballots.
Election officials tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep anxious citizens to the maximum of two inside each polling station.
At the Hygiene Center in Tuol Kok district, about 40 voters pushed their way into the building then crouched patiently on the floor.
“I just came here to vote,” one woman said. She and the 39 others weren’t leaving until they cast their ballots, she insisted.
Down the road at Kam Trang Warehouse, two rooms were empty except for the officials and observers while pandemonium ruled in a room between.
Voters, packed like groupies at a rock show, wormed their way into the center room. NEC officials complained that the center room had twice as many voters assigned to it as the two others.
“I don’t think the NEC did a very good job here,” said Taou Kim Ly, a 40-year-old hotel worker who had waited since 6 am and didn’t like braving the crush. But he said he would wait as long as it took.
Overall, most voters said they were pleased after casting their ballots.
“I feel happy to see so many people coming here,” said 61-year-old Buth Chi at the Tuol Kok Kindergarten. “It’s important to choose a good leader who can help the people.”
At Wat Tuol Tom Pong in Chamkar Mon district, Uch Kim An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stood videotaping an overcrowded polling station. “People just want to exercise their right to vote,” he said. Later, one woman was taken away by ambulance after fainting in the heat.
The crush of voters pointed up one shortcoming of many of the makeshift rooms: Entrances but no exits. “I’ll get the police if you don’t stop pushing,” warned a doorkeeper at the Chey Chhumneah Primary School polling station in Chamkar Mon district.
“Why don’t you open a window and let those who finished voting leave that way?” a man shouted back. Some polling stations did just that out of necessity.
By mid-morning, stations that had been packed earlier in the day were empty.
Across the river at Chroy Changvar, all was quiet by 3:15 pm.
With only 45 minutes of polling time left, the NEC staff and local observers at the primary school were looking bored.
“I’m happy that everyone came to vote today,” said Son Likia, an NEC official. “Everyone has to do it to choose a good leader.”
Of the 872 registered voters at the two polling stations in the primary school, only 71 had not yet come, she said.
Back in Phnom Penh, with only a half hour to go before the polls’ closing time, a black rain cloud looked ready to loosen its load on last-minute voters. But it never did.
At the School of Pharmacy and Medicine on Monivong Boulevard, last-minute voters were few and far between.
Four party election observers, one each from the CPP, Son Sann, Sam Rainsy and Neutral Democratic parties, chatted like old friends.
The four observers watched intently as the NEC officials sealed and locked the steel ballot box at 4 pm. But the day wasn’t over for the observers. They said they would spend the night with the boxes at the NEC district headquarters.
(Additional reporting by Freya Williams)
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