Cambodian citizen Koul Panha has been awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, often referred to as Asia’s Nobel peace prize, for his work with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
He is one of six people to receive this year’s award, which will be presented to them at a ceremony in Manila on August 31.
He is being recognised for “his determined and courageous leadership of the sustained campaign to build an enlightened, organised and vigilant citizenry who will ensure fair and free elections – as well as demand accountable governance by their elected officials – in Cambodia’s nascent democracy”, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said.
In an interview with The Post, Koul Panha said he was “surprised” and “excited” to receive the award.
Koul Panha is executive director of Comfrel, which seeks to increase electoral transparency and voter participation.
Since 1997 it has enlisted more than 50,000 election volunteers and held election-related workshops for about 150,000 voters, he said.
Koul Panha said the award would encourage his organisation to work harder, especially in preparation for the commune elections next year and national elections in 2013.
“We will deploy our volunteers to inform people about the importance of elections and their right to vote, as well as advocating electoral fairness, integrity and an even playing field for all [political] parties,” he said.
“The history of Cambodia is full of conflict. People want, finally, to enjoy democracy and fair elections.”
The award is named after a president of the Philippines who died in a plane crash in 1957. The foundation that oversees the award was established by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to “honour his memory and perpetuate his example of integrity in public service and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society”.
Koul Panha will receive a certificate, a cash prize and a medallion emblazoned with the image of Ramon Magsaysay. A total of 290 people in 22 Asian countries have been given the award.