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Election debate results mixed

The much touted candidate debates generated some sparks but little heat in the

Kingdom's six communes. However, they did manage to bring home the point to

political candidates that local issues rather than tall promises for the

nation's progress could pave the way for future electoral success.

Dr Lao

Mong Hay of the Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID), which helped organize the

debates, said that although the NEC's refusal to allow the debates to be

televised was unfortunate, the event had served as a forum for candidates to

show their qualifications and abilities to their electorate and address the

local issues raised by their constituents.

"It is the first time that the

voters in Cambodia have been able to directly question their potential local

leaders on issues concerning them,' he said.

Of the four issues that were

shortlisted during the community discussions organized prior to each of the six

debates, three were typically local and deeply concerned the day-to-day lives of

the electorate.

In Kampot, for instance, a resident of Kampong Bay

commune was troubled over the fact that the people too poor to afford the costly

cremation of their dead had no support from either the community or the

government.

"There are two associations that support poor people in such

circumstances, but both are for the ethnic Chinese community," he said.

Others wanted the incumbent CPP candidate Norng Nim to explain how he

wanted to root out corruption and develop the commune if he had not been able to

do so in his 20-year stint? Another voter asked what would happen if candidates

broke their promises on building roads and removing corruption.

In

Kampong Cham, the residents of Veal Vong commune were piqued over high power

tariffs, high payments for getting land titles and the fact that poor children

have to pay their teachers to get an education.

The Khmer Democratic

Party's candidate, Ms Ly Sreang Lorn, seemed to have answers for all the

problems: raise teachers' salaries and hire private teachers using commune funds

to raise the standard of education; standardize electricity meters to prevent

rigging and introduce private competition for cheaper power.

Besides

shifting the focus to local issues, organizers National Democratic Institute

(NDI) said the debates also managed to bring about a change in the attitudes of

both political candidates and their electorate by exhibiting the importance of

dialogue as a way of conveying messages and resolving issues.

Om

Yentieng, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee and special advisor

to Prime Minister Hun Sen, was present at the first debate in Kampot, along with

national and international observers, media and the donor community. He felt the

process should be extended to at least 1,000 communes in the next elections.

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