THE ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is set to expand its efforts to organise youth in a bid to shore up support ahead of elections in 2012 and 2013, officials said Wednesday.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, said the party would soon establish youth quick reaction units (YQRUs) down to the commune level in order to curb the opposition’s appeal.
“The CPP is now starting to establish volunteer youth quick reaction units in every commune, district and province across the country,” he said. “They will play a role responding to political propaganda and attacks from the other political parties.”
Cheam Yeap said the units, which will augment the party’s central Youth Working Group, will work to educate other youths about the CPP’s platform.
He did not give a time frame for the establishment of the units, but said they would be made up wholly of volunteers.
On Monday, Nam Tum, chief of the CPP’s provincial councillors in Kampong Thom, told the Post that youth units would be established in the province by next month. He said they would be used to counter familiar barbs from the opposition, such as: “The CPP is a yuon [Vietnamese] puppet” and “the CPP is a dictatorial party that shuts down the people’s rights”.
Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) spokesman Yim Sovann said Wednesday that the party was not worried about the CPP’s drive to attract youth. He said that with 30,000 young Cambodians entering the job market each year, the CPP’s lack of concern for youth employment would soon make itself apparent.
“I am not threatened or concerned about anything at all. If they can find jobs for all the youths in Cambodia, then we will be concerned,” he said.
He added that the attempt to harness youth – combined with an initiative to categorise people as “black”, “grey” or “white” according to their level of support for the CPP – was a sign of desperation.
“They know their support is going down because they cannot solve any problems. They are trying to use other strategies ... to hide the truth,” he said.
The establishment of the YQRUs sees the ruling party move to consolidate its support among one of the SRP’s key target demographics.
“Children are more and more numerous; they are more critical, more educated, more demanding,” SRP president Sam Rainsy said in an interview with the Post in November.
“Youth expectations are very different, so the voter patterns from now on will be different also,” he added.
But in a nationwide survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) during July and August of last year, 81 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 thought the country was going in the right direction. In addition, 56 percent of that demographic said they expected to be richer in one year’s time, with just 14 percent saying they expected to be less well-off.
Young people “are more likely to be happy with where the country’s going”, said John Willis, IRI’s country director. “They tend to be more optimistic about the future.”
Ke Bun Khieng, chief of the CPP’s central Youth Working Group, said young people support the party because they believe its leaders “are on the right track” in promoting economic growth.
But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, expressed concern that the CPP’s employment of youth volunteers to “react” to criticism could detract from the quality of political debate at the grass roots.
“The youth groups should focus on policy,” he said.
He added that although many youth seem to support the CPP, it is only a matter of time before increasing wealth leads young people to articulate new political demands.
“I think it will be the youth who bring change,” he said.