A study looking at the youth wings of the two major political parties found both to be mere extensions of the central leadership and devoid of any serious responsibilities or powers to influence policy.
The short study, released last week by the development agency Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, compared the youth structures of the Cambodian People’s Party and Cambodia National Rescue Party with four similar organisations in Germany, and found the local iterations to be more dependent on the “mother party” and less inclined to be critical or divergent from party policies.
“In an effort to obtain unity, they only promote their respective mother party’s policies,” the report reads.
Additionally, it found that both youth sections were created with a top-down approach, whereas German youth organisations, such as the Young Union and Green Youth, started as independent grassroots groups and moved upwards.
While both of the Cambodian parties’ youth wings focused on education issues, the CPP’s veered towards employment and health care, whereas the CNRP youth focused on human rights and social justice. However, both had limited influence on these policies.
While the report found the CPP’s official youth wing to have very low visibility, given its lack of social media presence, it acknowledged that the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC), headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Many, acted as an unofficial youth wing of the party.
Hing Soksan, head of CNRP’s youth wing, agreed with the report’s findings, saying he hoped his members could be more independent of the central party, but still work for the CNRP “indirectly”.
He attributed the reliance on ideas and leadership from the top down to Cambodian culture’s emphasis on respect for one’s elders. “However in the CNRP, when we have a new idea and request approval from the leaders, they may listen if we can provide good reasons.”
CPP spokesmen Sous Yara and Sok Eysan, and youth wing member Kim Santepheap, could not be reached yesterday, with Environment Minister and UYFC member Say Samal refusing to comment on the report.
Koul Panha, head of election monitor Comfrel, said both parties failed to encourage independent thinking from their youth wings, preferring to “utilise them but not listen to them”.
Given the restricted space for opinions from youth within party structures, Panha said social media had become an outlet for young people to engage in policy discussions and critique senior leaders.