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Political parties are 'all the same', IRI survey finds

Political parties are 'all the same', IRI survey finds

Responses show over 80 percent of Cambodians want to elect their own village chief, not have one imposed by govt.

WHO WAS ASKED? 

The IRI Survey of Cambodian Public Opinion looked at people's attitudes towards last year's general election, thoughts on democracy and feelings on the direction the country is taking. Seventy-eight percent of respondents were from rural areas. 

Some 82 percent of Cambodians believe the Kingdom is moving "in the right direction", according to a nationwide public opinion survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) - an increase of 11 percent over results from a similar survey in 2007.

An IRI representative contacted by the Post on Sunday refused to comment ahead of today's official launch.

But the IRI discussed the results of the survey - conducted in 2008 following July's national election - last week with Sok An, deputy prime minister and minister at the Council of Ministers.

Council spokesman Phay Siphan said the government would not respond in detail ahead of today's release but said the survey was extremely helpful.

Tool for guidance

"The survey is a useful tool, and we have learned a lot from the responses of the public," Phay Siphan said. "It will prove very important for guiding the government in setting its policies."

The report, which surveyed the opinions of 2,000 people across the country late last year, also found that 85 percent of respondents wanted to elect their own village chief rather than having one imposed by the government.

And the survey showed why that was an important consideration: Two-fifths of respondents said the village chief was the most influential person in their lives. The second-most influential person, according to 28 percent of respondents,  was the prime minister.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said many village chiefs across the country exerted a strong influence at the local level. His concern was that this influence could endanger freedom of expression.

"I think that even though Cambodia is seen to be moving in the right direction, that doesn't mean that the government is doing well in all areas," he said. "The influence of village chiefs means they can play a role as either a protector of human rights or an abuser of them."

Parties all the same

Some 55 percent of people surveyed said that there was either no difference between competing parties in the 2008 election or that they didn't know what the differences were. Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said that posed a challenge for the opposition party.

"There is something wrong with our message," she said. "But there is another factor - the CPP has all the media channels. They keep saying: ‘There is no difference. Every party is alike'. The media went so strong on that, and we have no means to say that we are different. Every channel on radio and TV says that: ‘We are the same'."

"But where we are able to reach and to say: Yes, there is a difference, then 21 percent of the voters say there is a difference," she added. "So we have to work harder on the message getting there much earlier."

The problem of equal access to media, an issue of intense debate during national elections, was felt by 95 percent of respondents as "very or somewhat important" in building a functioning democracy.

Other factors that scored 95 percent or higher in that category were making the judiciary stronger and independent, and ensuring that provincial governments were elected by all citizens.

IRI country representative John Willis said last week that the data would be used by all major political parties to promote democracy, accountability and good governance.

The survey was carried out last year between October 22 and November 25 in all 24 provinces and municipalities.

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