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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Youth vote can't stop Hun Sen, says CPP

Youth vote can't stop Hun Sen, says CPP

 

With more than 55 percent of the Cambodian

population aged 18-30, a mobilized youth vote could sway the upcoming

national elections in July, democracy watchers like to point out.

But although one of the

major parties is actively wooing youth voters into its party, the ruling CPP

dismissed the idea that young voters want to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen

this month accused the Sam Rainsy Party of bringing youths into the political

fray in order to fight him. “They are dragging in a youth movement to topple

Hun Sen from the position,” he said in a March 5 speech following the SRP’s

national youth congress.

Hun Sen

added he would leave it to the voters to “fight back in the upcoming

elections.”

But

Cheam Yeap, a member of the CPP’s Central Standing Committee, went further,

telling the Post on March 19 that he thought it would be impossible for

a youth vote to oust Hun Sen this year.

The

voter registration process is already closed. National Elections Committee

Secretary General Tep Nytha estimated 300,000 new young voters registered in

2007. He said the number increases every year.

“I

don’t really know how many youth members there are within the CPP, but the CPP

has five million members and many youths within the university and graduates

are supporters of Hun Sen,” Nytha said.

He

added that Hun Sen often gives speeches to graduating classes.

“I

think that even if the SRP has more than 100,000 youths as members it is still

not enough of a voice to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said.

In launching its national

youth congress, the SRP said it had about

52,000 youth members from 17 provinces.

The party also elected a youth

representative March 2 to sit at its executive committee.

The representative, 28-year-old

San Seak Kin of Phnom Penh,

will be able to contribute directly to the party’s political platform, said SRP

parliamentarian Tioulong Saumura, Sam Rainsy’s wife.

Saumura admitted that until

recently many older Cambodians had no idea that the youth contribution could be

so important.

“Young people are surprisingly

determined, committed, active and politically minded.

“People who have never received

political training show such a high level of maturity,” she said. “There is a

freshness and spontaneity in people who have not suffered from intimidation.

“Young are more daring and

audacious because they have not had the bad experience of suffering.”

Although many elections observers

said youths in Cambodia

want change, none could point to any strong evidence that young people were

likely to affect the upcoming elections.

“Most young people understand the

importance of politics but they just stay under the control of older

politicians,” said Khmer Students Association program coordinator Saro Sovudhi.

“Maybe in ten years young people

will have some real power,” he said.

Figures derived from official

results of the 2007 commune council elections show there are of the 11,353

elected commune councilors nationwide. However, only 163, or 1.6 percent, are

youths. There are no parliamentarians under the age of 30 despite the minimum

permissible age being 25.

Nevertheless, some education

campaigns are gearing up to encourage participation in politics.

A 2007 survey conducted by the

Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) found young

peoples’ grasp of the voting registration process was patchy.

Since then COMFREL has signed a

contract with United Nations Development Program to help run a forum before the

elections to train youth from major political parties and youth associations on

the importance of networking and cooperation in politics.

“This election is just the

beginning for youth to increase their voices,” said COMFREL executive director

Koul Panha.

But Panha said the parties don’t

let young people do much. “They have used youth movements to support them but

they don’t give them any influence or power in decision making,” he said.

The idea of the UNDP program is

to promote the idea that “if they all have a common agenda, they should come

together,” he added.

“After the election we will bring

them together again and talk about the political platforms of different parties

and how they can respond.”

The forum covers ten of Cambodia’s 185

districts but plans to expand.

The Neutral and Impartial

Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) is training youth in

monitoring and advocacy.

The Youth Council of Cambodia is

also running some education programs in 12 target provinces for 13- to

17-year-olds and for 18- to 23-year-olds. The older group looks at democracy,

the election process and good governance.

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