Every question asked by the youth who attended the Youth Rally organised by the Cambodia National Rescue Party last Sunday was about their lives.
The need for change was loud and clear – contrary to the title of The Phnom Penh Post article Rainsy avoids Sokha issue in Talk with Youth that appeared the next day.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party highlighted again that social media is a real force in Cambodia and it is seriously influencing the way youth are getting information, especially that which is missing from local mainstream media – be it state or private.
The CNRP youth rally on Sunday, June 16, was standing room only. The audience was more than the 1,000 expected.
How did the information about the rally reach the public? Facebook.
Who are these youths who made the free choice to attend an opposition rally, taking the risk of being identified as pro-opposition – the only party shouting loud and clear for change?
They are students and youth in the informal sector who are actively communicating with each other, hungry for news that matters to their lives and future.
They are the youth who cannot be controlled by government pressure, by offers of money or a free meal.
They are not youth of the top 10 per cent of rich Cambodians, but the youth whose parents make tremendous sacrifices and investments in their education.
They are not youth with body guards and luxury cars, they ride motorcycles and bicycles.
They are the youth who see very little hope in the current government. They are the youth who came not to cheer but to ask hard questions about the future to leaders of the opposition.
And if the ruling party were to play the democratic game by coming out to public debates, these youths would be there too.
LG, a very active Facebook user, was studying for her high school diploma in 2006 when the company excavators came to her community and wiped it all out as part of the many hundreds of Economic Land Concessions granted by the government to private companies in the name of development.
LG’s family was forced to accept a meaningless compensation and had to move far from the city. As a result, LG dropped out of school.
Today, LG is back on track – in her second year of university and has formed her network of Facebook friends.
She amazes me with her skills to navigate through social media. She gives me only one reason why she counts on Facebook to bring change: free access to information and change is very much on the horizon.
Just two days ago, a young man pushing his cart spotted me and gave me a big smile. I was sure he wanted to sell me his cakes.
But he whispered to me: accept me as your friend on Facebook. I was stunned.
He finished his Masters but has found no employment.
When I enter an internet café, I know my “friends” are there. That is the hope and the evidence that the tides for change cannot be stopped even with the use of anti-riot police.
Youths love to challenge and to take risks. They may just be five per cent, but they are the critical mass and growing.
Allegations of all forms against top leaders of the CNRP have made front page news of every media outlet in Cambodia in the past weeks. These allegations will continue without doubt.
But not once did the youth who attended the opposition rally care to mention them. Instead, the burning issues were education, employment, a living wage, justice and freedoms.
These are exactly the issues on the CNRP political platform.
Should the “Sokha issues” have been raised, the CNRP leaders would have stayed focused on the real political agenda that matters to Cambodian citizens. Let’s give our youth hope and not get distracted with dirty politics.
The “face-to-face” Skype conversation with exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy is a dialogue that respects the role of the youth and their right to free speech and information.
Last Sunday’s youth rally was intended to further engage youth in political debates and to maintain their political activism.
Change is in the air via social media that allows youth in Cambodia, like youth in other countries, to have a genuine voice in political debates.
What last Sunday’s youth rally is teaching us is that the youth of Cambodia want to vote for freedom and for hope.
The youth of Cambodia are looking for quality leadership – the kind that treats them with respect and dignity by speaking to them as equals and about the issues that matter to them.
Social media has reached Cambodia and it will make a difference in the July elections.
Mu Sochua, MP,
Candidate for elections,
Cambodia National Rescue Party