The much touted candidate debates generated some sparks but little heat in the
Kingdom's six communes. However, they did manage to bring home the point to
political candidates that local issues rather than tall promises for the
nation's progress could pave the way for future electoral success.
Mong Hay of the Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID), which helped organize the
debates, said that although the NEC's refusal to allow the debates to be
televised was unfortunate, the event had served as a forum for candidates to
show their qualifications and abilities to their electorate and address the
local issues raised by their constituents.
"It is the first time that the
voters in Cambodia have been able to directly question their potential local
leaders on issues concerning them,' he said.
Of the four issues that were
shortlisted during the community discussions organized prior to each of the six
debates, three were typically local and deeply concerned the day-to-day lives of
In Kampot, for instance, a resident of Kampong Bay
commune was troubled over the fact that the people too poor to afford the costly
cremation of their dead had no support from either the community or the
"There are two associations that support poor people in such
circumstances, but both are for the ethnic Chinese community," he said.
Others wanted the incumbent CPP candidate Norng Nim to explain how he
wanted to root out corruption and develop the commune if he had not been able to
do so in his 20-year stint? Another voter asked what would happen if candidates
broke their promises on building roads and removing corruption.
Kampong Cham, the residents of Veal Vong commune were piqued over high power
tariffs, high payments for getting land titles and the fact that poor children
have to pay their teachers to get an education.
The Khmer Democratic
Party's candidate, Ms Ly Sreang Lorn, seemed to have answers for all the
problems: raise teachers' salaries and hire private teachers using commune funds
to raise the standard of education; standardize electricity meters to prevent
rigging and introduce private competition for cheaper power.
shifting the focus to local issues, organizers National Democratic Institute
(NDI) said the debates also managed to bring about a change in the attitudes of
both political candidates and their electorate by exhibiting the importance of
dialogue as a way of conveying messages and resolving issues.
Yentieng, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee and special advisor
to Prime Minister Hun Sen, was present at the first debate in Kampot, along with
national and international observers, media and the donor community. He felt the
process should be extended to at least 1,000 communes in the next elections.