Cambodia's youngest voters have been “alienated” by the ruling party’s corrupt governance, leaving the Cambodian People’s Party scrambling to recoup the coveted youth vote ahead of next year’s national poll, a new paper argues.
The article, published in the journal Critical Asian Studies and entitled Coming of age in peace, prosperity, and connectivity, doesn’t examine the fallout from recent commune elections, but it does highlight that the youth voter bloc is highly educated and well-connected to information.
“Cambodia’s institutions of governance, dominated by personalized and patron-client networks that have been propped up by the ruling elite, has effectively marginalized this emerging youth population,” reads the report, which is authored by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute’s Netra Eng.
“[Y]oung Cambodians attribute their limited access to political and economic power as well as opportunities for social upward mobility to the entrenched culture of corruption and nepotism maintained in large part by the CPP since the 1980s as a prop for its power.”
With the movement of young workers from rural areas to urban industries, two-thirds of young people are working more than 50 hours per week and most receive less than the minimum wage, the report says. Meanwhile, about 370,000 more young people become eligible to vote each year in Cambodia, and almost 60 percent of the population is under 30. Most of them “do not remember the war years and might not be scared by the Prime Minister’s threats” of political instability, it adds.
People Center for Development and Peace President Yung Kim Eng, who focused on youth issues at the election monitoring Situation Room, said youth voting numbers had not been finalised yet, but predicted that around 5 to 7 percent of commune councillors would be under the age of 35. That figure was 5 percent at the last commune election.
“Many political parties said youth are important, but youth candidates are still little [in] number. They don’t have a separate plan and policy to draw youth attention,” Kim Eng said.
He said while more than 10,000 people under 35 were candidates for the 12 parties that contested the commune elections (around 10 percent), just 770 were placed in priority spots (places one to five on the ballot) by the two major parties.
The shock result of the 2013 national election – which saw the newly united opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party make huge gains – forced the ruling party to re-evaluate their strategies, the report argues, with a focus on improving health and education, giving pay increases to civil servants and garment workers, and enacting land reforms.
The party bolstered its social media presence and “[c]hildren of senior party figures were also promoted to key positions in the party and government”.
This last point does nothing to dispel the youth’s concerns of nepotism, opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua said.
She said that the recent appointment as governor of Koh Kong of Mithona Phouthorng – herself the daughter of former Governor Yuth Phoutorng – “says it all about nepotism”, but she was nonetheless encouraged to see the CPP promoting a young woman to the role.
“There are many other cases of CPP youth stars, but they are very connected to high-ranking officials. Rare are cases of CPP youth appointed to a significant position who do not have close family ties with the leadership,” she said.
Hun Many, son of Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the CPP’s youth wing, could not be reached yesterday, but made a point of campaigning on youth issues during the recent election, even promising to build a football stadium in Takeo.