Young voters express frustration over the Kingdom's predictably confrontational politics and say fear of reprisal and self-interest keep them silent in public and absent from the polls
Young people on the campaign trail for Funcinpec in Sihanoukville.
AS demographic data for July's election are still being tabulated, many younger voters are expressing pessimism, apathy and fear towards politics.
While some said they pay scant attention to how their nation is run, others said they follow the national discourse but are too afraid to join in.
"Of course I'm afraid for my security when I talk about politics because I'm risking my life - I can be killed, just like some political heroes who died over politics," said Ham Kimhoun, a 25-year-old who works with a local NGO.
He said his peers are uninterested in politics, focusing their attention elsewhere. "I see a lot of youths who think that politics is pointless, and they're only concerned with studies, work and their lifestyle, more so than politics," Ham Kimhoun said.
The last available figures for youth voting, from the 2007 commune election, show a low turnout, although voter participation is normally likely to be lower in non-national contests. Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, said that in the commune polls, just 3.2 percent of eligible voters aged 18-35 cast ballots, which translates to some 265,000 young people hitting the polling booths.
However, for the July 27 national election, Moa Pouthyroth, program coordinator of Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC), said her group, which worked in eight provinces and the capital, noticed large numbers of younger voters at the polls.
She estimated about 70 percent of eligible young voters cast their ballots. Until official numbers are available, it is impossible to verify this estimate.
Tailor Korn Channavy, 24, said she's never cared about politics and that what's most important for her is money. "Politics is useless and worthless for me to think and care about. My top priorities are money and work, because that's what will help me improve my lifestyle," she said.
[National politics] Resembles theatre: sometimes comedy, sometimes tragedy.
"Politicians only ever think of what benefits them, so I do too," she added. "My time is valuable; I don't waste it talking or thinking about politics."
Thon Saykhim, 20, a national youth coordinator for Khmer Youth and Social Development, said she finds politics frustrating and repetitive. "I'm fed up with national politics," she said. "Politicians don't think about the country's development; they're only concerned with power." She added that post-election disputes are the norm for Cambodia, from mandate to mandate.
Without expressing support for any party, she said "the opposition party often protests the ruling party but neglects their own shortcomings, and equally, the government is overly proud about their power. The parties don't understand each other".
Heng Thou of the Advocacy and Policy Institute said national politics "resembles theatre: sometimes comedy and sometimes drama".
She said she talks about politics with friends and co-workers, but she doesn't speak her mind in public because it's not safe. "A lot of people have been killed for talking about politics. Our country is not that free," she said.
Seng Rithy, director of education and advocacy at the Khmer Youth Association, lamented the culture of fear as an obstacle for youth participation in politics.
"It isn't right to threaten people for discussing politics," he said. "It's not a good environment for youths now, and for the future, because they're not free to discuss and exchange ideas and opinions."