Vote for me, and your life will improve-that was the simple campaign carrot from
the big three political parties at a June 29 debate in Kampong Cham, the country's
most populous province.
Ith Prang of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) joined Funcinpec's You Hokry
and opposition leader Sam Rainsy to tell a 1,000 strong audience how their respective
parties would solve economic, agricultural, education, health, security and social
Rainsy leads the SRP's ticket in Kampong Cham, while Hokry is placed at number two
for Funcinpec, below party head Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Ith Prang is at number
eight on the CPP's list.
Candidates were warned they would be dismissed from the stage if they insulted an
individual or a political party during their two-minute speeches detailing their
commitment to solving the nation's problems.
Rainsy was unperturbed, and weighed in against coalition partners CPP and Funcinpec,
accusing them of serious corruption. He said graft had damaged the economy, the judiciary,
security and people's standard of living.
Neither Hokry nor Prang was keen to address that topic, but Prang did talk about
impunity in Kampong Cham, which recorded the highest number of murders ahead of last
year's commune elections. Prang told the audience that impunity was a sensitive issue,
and said the country needed to "strengthen its armed forces in order to improve
security for the people".
Hokry, who is co-Minister of Interior, said the royalists would repair the weak judiciary,
and establish a system of investigating crimes that would lead to the arrest and
punishment of perpetrators.
"The judicial system is bad," he said of the royalist-run ministry. "Suspects
are always released and therefore free to commit crimes again. So we have to take
action against this."
Opinions were mixed on how well the big-hitters comments went down. One 52-year-old
CPP supporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was impressed by the all three
"Each party had similar policies, but Sam Rainsy expressed a strong commitment
and I wouldn't be surprised if he took the Prime Minister's seat," he said.
"This debate has helped me to consider casting my vote for another party."
But other CPP and Funcinpec supporters told the Post after the two-hour meeting at
Wat Angkor, just outside the provincial capital, that they would remain loyal to
their parties. None would permit their names to be used.
One long-time CPP loyalist said his vote would stay with the ruling party as it had
served the country well, both in terms of unifying the nation and in trying to improve
development. And a Funcinpec supporter said he would like to hear further debates
before deciding whether or not to switch his allegiance.
Mark Wallem, the senior resident director of the National Democratic Institute, a
civil society NGO which organized the proceedings, said the value of debates was
that voters could address their concerns directly to candidates.
"As the issues are discussed, voters learn more about party platforms, identify
the differences between them, and learn more about the candidates running for office
in their province," Wallem said.
The NDI's coverage of the question and answer sessions will be screened on television
beginning July 10, once their content is approved by the National Election Committee
The NDI is observing debates between candidates and voters in twelve of the Kingdom's
24 provinces and municipalities between June 26 and July 6. Fourteen of the 22 political
parties competing in the national election will take part in the debates.
* The 22 competing parties gave their responses to one of the most pressing problems-fighting
corruption. The five-minute broadcasts were produced by the NEC, and allowed party
representatives to put forward their ideas. They were screened twice on the state
television station, TVK, on June 28, and transmitted twice that day on the two state-owned
AM and FM radio stations.
Nuon Bunna, president of the Cambodian Women's Party, said her party would write
new laws to prevent and eliminate corruption. Among the measures it would take: examine
the issue of civil servants' salaries; introduce labor laws in order to improve living
standards; avoid human rights abuses; and punish civil servants, government members
and citizens who flout the law. Nepotism and bribery among high-ranking government
and court officials would also be punished.
The Rice Party's president, Nhoung Seab, told viewers that a genuine democracy-which
included respect for citizens' ideas and media freedom, including broadcasts on political
corruption-was the only way to stamp out corruption. Seab promised a national corruption
committee, and pledged to include anti-corruption laws, including a provision for
account checking, in the Constitution.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP) said it would raise the monthly salaries of civil
servants and the armed forces to at least 600,000 riel ($150), create an independent
body responsible for preventing corruption, and establish a special court for long-term
investigations. Other FDP measures included making all civil servants declare their
assets, reform the bureaucratic infrastructure of public services, lighten the administrative
load, eliminate gambling, smuggling, and drug dealing, and educate youth about the
consequences of corrupt activities.
Bun Uy of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) said his party was absolutely
against corruption and strongly supported punishment for such criminal acts. The
CPP would focus on good governance as the general framework within which it would
be able to stamp out corruption.
"[The CPP] will also set up a citizen's complaints office, and plans to embrace
any anti-corruption measures introduced on an international scale," Uy said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was vocal as always in his criticisms. He said the SRP
would act against illegal logging, smuggling, human rights abuses and people selling
public assets for personal gain.