“HEY ladies, where are you going? Why are all of you walking together in the village?” croons the male vocalist in the opening lines of a catchy ballad.
A woman responds in the song, set to an up-tempo beat not out of place at a Cambodian wedding, by telling him to stop pestering her – she’s busy taking part in the democratic process.
“Please go away and stop bothering me/Because I have important things to do/I’m going to register my name on the voting list.”
They join voices in the chorus, vowing to make it to the office on time, and to exercise their rights as citizens.
The song, titled Youth Who Are of Age Should Go to Register Together to Vote, goes on in that vein for six minutes. It’s one of several democracy-loving ditties commissioned by the government to get out the vote.
The songs have played on the radio, in television commercials, and are posted on the website of the National Election Committee.
Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the NEC, said the musical renderings will be recorded onto CDs for further distribution. About 10 songs were recorded for both radio and television by a private firm contracted for the job.
“The reason that we make these songs is to educate people to understand about their rights, and what they should do for the election, the information about the election,” he said. “This spot is very important for the voters.”
In an ironic twist, one of the tunes features lyrics urging voters to make sure they are registered. Critics of the NEC have pointed out flaws in the voter list in recent weeks, including missing names and voters who don’t seem to exist in real life. They have demanded changes to guard against disenfranchisement during the July election. While the NEC has consistently batted down these suggestions, the refrain in the song seems to strike a different chord.
“Oh…Oh…Oh… please go to check your name on the voting list, check your name on the voting list.”
“If you do not go to register your name for voting,” a singer warns in an earlier verse, “you are so stupid, because when the election day comes, you cannot vote.”
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said that while the songs were nothing new – the government had used karaoke and dancing in previous elections to spark interest – this time, the audience is more distinct.
“Maybe it’s a little bit strange, but they are trying to do something to target the young voter,” he said.
While the songs don’t call on Cambodians to support any one party, youth is an emerging theme in this year’s election. Many sons of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials are running for parliament, and the recently formed Cambodia National Rescue Party announced this week that it will run 45 candidates under the age of 35.
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said using music to get out the message was a time-honoured practice. Prime Minister Hun Sen has karaoke songs touting his achievements, and so does his wife, Bun Rany.
But it’s not limited to the highest levels of power. Opposition parties have their own songs, and Virak’s organisation once aired a cheerful composition that promoted free speech.
He wouldn’t mind creating another one. There’s just one problem.
“I can’t sit myself down and write these songs.”