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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Most of nation feels 'confident and happy'

Most of nation feels 'confident and happy'

Some of the results of a new survey will surprise cynics and come as welcome news

to the oft-embattled coalition government.

With a margin of error of plus or minus 3%, the study, Democracy in Cambodia, says

that 72% of Cambodian's believe their country is heading in the right direction,

and 78% of respondents are "confident and happy" about Cambodia's future.

Almost half indicated that they had become personally better off in the past two

years.

The optimism extends to a growing sense of grass roots political freedom in Cambodia

with two-thirds of Cambodians claiming that they feel free to express their political

opinions.

The survey is the result of more than 1000 in-depth interviews carried out by the

Center for Advanced Study from July to August 2000. The comprehensive survey, funded

by the Asia Foundation, was carried out on people of voting age in 24 of Cambodia's

25 provinces.

The survey covered a range of issues from knowledge and understanding of democracy

to the national mood, attitudes on gender and understanding of the commune election

process.

The report takes a more worrying turn when it delves into questions of knowledge

of democracy and understanding of the upcoming commune elections. Some 40% of all

respondents and 50% of women had not yet heard that the commune elections were coming,

70% were not aware that they were required to register and 92% said they needed more

information.

Hean Sokhum, Director of the Center for Advanced Study, argues that the lack of public

awareness about the commune elections reflected in the survey could yet be overcome.

"It depends on the information people get, but in previous [elections] we have

not had major problems with voter registration" he said.

The survey results indicated that public understanding of democracy proved to be

particularly problematic, with just 3% of people associating democracy with elections

and over two-thirds unable to describe the characteristics of a democratic country.

In what is perhaps a throwback to Cambodia's feudal past, 56% of people expressed

the belief that the commune level of government should be like a "father"

to the people.

According to Sokhum, while democratic knowledge in Cambodian urban centers was rising

"...understanding among the rural people is still very poor".

However enthusiasm is high.

Once aware of the commune elections, 97% of respondents said they intended to vote,

with most hoping to use the ballot box to choose their own leaders and to end corruption.

In a finding that could spell trouble for incumbent commune leaders, almost a third

of respondents hoped for a change of leadership at the local level and another 30%

were looking for fairer and better governance after the commune elections.

Voters remain nervous about the prospects of a free and fair election. While close

to 60% of those surveyed were satisfied that the 1998 elections had been free and

fair, fewer than half the respondents believed that the 2002 commune elections would

also be above board.

The survey revealed that traditional patriarchal attitudes and bias dominate in Cambodia,

with almost 60% of both men and women believing that commune council members should

be mostly male, and close to a third of both genders thinking that women should vote

only after consulting a male for advice.

In an apparent contradiction, however, some 86% of respondents said that a woman

could make a good commune leader.

The reports authors are hopeful that the results will be used to inform voter education

projects planned in the run-up to next February's elections and beyond as well as

to act as a baseline from which the impact of democracy-building projects can be

measured.

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