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A young supporter at a CNRP rally.
A young supporter at a CNRP rally. Hong Menea

A new party hopes to harness power of youth

The Cambodian Youth Party last Thursday became the seventh new political party since 2013 – but the first with a youth-directed policy platform. Its inception raises questions about the shifting political role of the “youth”, a category that, here in Cambodia, can extend to those in their upper 30s. This week, Audrey Wilson spoke with Preap Kol, the executive director of Transparency International in Cambodia, about reverse-parental influence, social media and the likelihood of a split vote

What do you the think the establishment of the Cambodian Youth Party says about the role of youths in politics since the last election? What should a party do to court the youth vote?
Sixty-eight per cent of the Cambodia population is under the age of 30. The CYP might see this trend as an opportunity to attract the youth. If the party is from a well-established network of youth, they should be able to mobilise 4,000 members quite easily.

But young voters will be the target of any political party that seeks to win the election – the old ones and the new ones. To attract the youth, first they need to think about employment, policies that give them confidence that they can get access to job markets with fair wages. Anyone who wants to attract youth also needs a really convincing anti-corruption platform. Ninety-nine per cent of young people, according to our survey, believe that corruption is the biggest obstacle in Cambodia. They are less tolerant of corruption than their parents.

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The youth proved to be a strong voting bloc in 2013. Do you think they will return to the polls in such strong numbers in the upcoming commune and national elections?
I think so, at least during the 2018 election, as it will be one of the most interesting elections in Cambodian history. And the youth will see that this is a very important time, and a very important opportunity for them, for how they want the country to advance.

I anticipate the same level or maybe even more engagement from the young voters. And also that the youth will influence their parents — a new dynamic for Cambodia. Parents now accept that their children are more clever, more engaged than them. For urban youth, who have gotten a high school and university education this certainly applies.

Some young people appear to use social media to express a certain casual attitude — even cynicism — toward both CPP and CNRP politicians, re-posting photos of leaders in vacation mode this week, for example. How do you think this sentiment could play out in their politics?

Facebook is very powerful in Cambodia. And now that information can be received through social media, there is no one-sided media control. So people, and especially young people, are able to see different news. This was not the case only several years ago.

Social media has been and will continue to be instrumental to engage youth politics here in Cambodia, too. Politicians must be equipped to leverage social media if they want to influence urban and educated youth to support their party.

Do you think youth voters will tend to think — and thus vote — beyond the boxes of the two main parties in the next election? Could this split the vote in the CPP’s favour?

It is possible. But I think that the CPP and the CNRP would still earn most of the vote from the the youth. I think there will be a few other parties that will be able to attract youth, but not as many. And I think it is too early to say with the CYP, given that it is quite new. I don’t want to give a judgment too early, but they are really trying to convince people to believe and trust in the new parties.

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