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Young people are where the politics is at

Dear Editor,

The biggest untold political story in Cambodia is the rising interest in democratic politics among the young.  Your [August 8] article "Cambodia's youth see politics as a pointless, dangerous game" may have been accurate years ago, but times have changed.

Anybody in the surprisingly large crowds attending one of the International Republican Institute's (IRI) multi-party Youth Debates during the campaign period would dispute the article's characterisation of youth as "silent in public".  Hungry for political discourse, young voters stuffed the question box with tough questions. Those questions were answered by young representatives of all major parties.  Cambodia's political parties have talented young leaders just waiting to be discovered.

A similar outpouring of youthful enthusiasm for democracy took place in Prey Veng last month when a record-sized crowd joined the sixth Youth Democracy Festival organized by IRI and our partner the Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  Thousands of young Cambodians, many not yet old enough to vote, attended to learn how they can be more active in the democratic life of their country.

IRI's public opinion surveys suggest a different reason for lower youth turnout than "fear of reprisal and self-interest" cited by the article.  The biggest problem with youth voter turnout is getting them placed on the voter list.  Simplifying the registration process could provide the greatest yield in increasing young voters.  Last year, YCC conducted registration drives focused on 18- to 22-year-olds who were least likely to be registered and get-out-the-vote campaigns before the July national elections to encourage those who were eligible to vote.

The young people of Cambodia are strong, energised and doing all they can to ready themselves for future leadership.  With the right support and encouragement, increasing numbers of Cambodian youth will realise that they are the solution to many of the frustrations mentioned in your article.  I recommend you focus more attention on Cambodia's youth - that's where the exciting political action is.  

John Willis

Country Director

International Republican Institute



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