Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lagging education leaving voters in the dark

Lagging education leaving voters in the dark

Lagging education leaving voters in the dark

IF VOTER intimidation is the disease of Election '98, then voter education is at

least a medicine, if not a total cure.

However, not enough is being done to solve the problem, lamented a National Election

Committee (NEC) member, who would only comment on condition of anonymity.

Voters must be told of the safeguards that have been put into place to ensure a secret

ballot, he said, adding that some election officials would rather look the other

way than deal with the problem.

Arming voters with the right information could nullify the pressure many of them

are feeling from aggressive political party officials, he said.

But so far, voter education has not lived up to expectations. Voters were not effectively

educated during registration, one foreign election worker complained, and the prospect

for proper education during the campaign and balloting also looks dim.

Education has been carried out in two ways: by the NEC, helped by donors financing

the election; and independently by NGOs being financed by donors such as the United

States.

The NEC is charged with coordinating the entire education effort, but NGOs are complaining

that it has been lackluster in helping with their programs.

NGO educators running into difficulties with provincial and commune leaders have

not been supported enough by the NEC, NGO officials said.

"The NEC has not been very helpful, and many times the local authorities have

been difficult," said one election worker from the Coalition for Free and Fair

Elections (COFFEL).

"Sometimes the local authorities told us we could only observe registration

and not educate the voters. Once they find out we are neutral and can't be of any

use to them, then they lose interest in working with us."

And while person-to-person education has often been stymied by local governments,

voter education through the mass media has run into national government roadblocks.

Some NGOs organized televised candidate debates, but the Center for Social Development

(CSD) has complained that government-run television stations have censored their

content and kept their programs off the air as much as possible.

"There is strict control for the program [including] political parties' members

or individuals whose views differ from those of the government," according to

a CSD statement titled "Challenges faced by NGOs in the use of media".

National television stations have reduced broadcasting time allotted to NGOs from

one to two hours a session to a mere 15 to 20 minutes, the release stated.

Fees for air time were also raised by 20% for existing NGO-produced programs, and

the CSD was informed that the cost of airing any new programs would double.

During the campaign, due to begin June 25, the election law and NEC regulations state

that state-run media must broadcast all NEC-approved information relating to the

election free of charge. Yet NGOs have had such a hard time getting their programs

aired that many are skeptical of whether the NEC will approve their programs for

broadcasting.

"We have eight to nine hours of tape ready and we're not sure if it will ever

see the light of day," one CSD worker said. "At this point we are just

going to give it to the NEC and see if they will use it, but we don't even know if

they will look at it."

Responding to the NGOs' complaints, the NEC member in change of training and civic

education, You Kan, told the Post that education during the registration period may

not have been perfect, but it appeared to be adequate.

"It's hard to say. During registration we think we maybe reached 50% [of potential

voters]," You Kan said.

"But so far [in the third week of registration] 80% have registered, so we know

people have become interested in this election."

And despite any shortcomings during registration, the NEC member said he is optimistic

that education during the campaign will be a success.

The NEC is aware of voter intimidation, he said, and has received a general message

from the electorate that people do not feel safe to vote for whichever party they

want.

"We have heard that the people do not trust the secrecy [of the vote], so we

have produced material showing them that it will be free and that no one can stop

you or force you to vote," You Kan said. "We will also tell them that no

one has the right to take a registration card from anybody."

COFFEL Executive Director Lay Sovathara agreed that anti-intimidation messages will

be the most important ones to get across to the voters if the election result is

to truly reflect the will of the people.

"Only the NEC can guarantee the ability of the people to vote freely,"

he said.

Pre-registration and registration education was mostly funded by the European Union,

according to You Kan, and the NEC is hopeful that approval will soon be given to

a request made to the UN Development Program (UNDP) for $433,000 to fund education

during the campaign and balloting.

A UNDP official told the Post that the UNDP is "ready and willing" to finance

voter education through its open trust fund for the election, but he said the NEC

has yet to submit its final education curriculum.

"I'm hoping that the information will be ready by the end of the month so there

will be a three- to four-week slot for education," the UNDP official said.

You Kan said there are plans for posters, leaflets and voters' handbooks for the

campaign, as well as television and radio spots.

The CSD told the Post that it is working on a voters' guide that will summarize the

platforms of every party for voters.

Customized for each province so voters will only see the parties that are contesting

in their area, the USAID-funded guides will be distributed to each polling station.

A total of 300,000 are expected to be printed, about 25 per polling station.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Angkor Beer, 30 Years of Prestige and Still Counting

    Let’s celebrate 30 years of prestige with Angkor Beer. In this 2022, Angkor Beer is 30 years old and has been staying with Cambodian hearts in all circumstances. Head of core beer portfolio, EmYuthousaid, “We have been with Cambodians for three decades now. We, ANGKOR Beer, pride

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,