With more than 55 percent of the Cambodian
population aged 18-30, a mobilized youth vote could sway the upcoming
national elections in July, democracy watchers like to point out.
But although one of the
major parties is actively wooing youth voters into its party, the ruling CPP
dismissed the idea that young voters want to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen.
this month accused the Sam Rainsy Party of bringing youths into the political
fray in order to fight him. “They are dragging in a youth movement to topple
Hun Sen from the position,” he said in a March 5 speech following the SRP’s
national youth congress.
added he would leave it to the voters to “fight back in the upcoming
Cheam Yeap, a member of the CPP’s Central Standing Committee, went further,
telling the Post on March 19 that he thought it would be impossible for
a youth vote to oust Hun Sen this year.
voter registration process is already closed. National Elections Committee
Secretary General Tep Nytha estimated 300,000 new young voters registered in
2007. He said the number increases every year.
don’t really know how many youth members there are within the CPP, but the CPP
has five million members and many youths within the university and graduates
are supporters of Hun Sen,” Nytha said.
added that Hun Sen often gives speeches to graduating classes.
think that even if the SRP has more than 100,000 youths as members it is still
not enough of a voice to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said.
In launching its national
youth congress, the SRP said it had about
52,000 youth members from 17 provinces.
The party also elected a youth
representative March 2 to sit at its executive committee.
The representative, 28-year-old
San Seak Kin of Phnom Penh,
will be able to contribute directly to the party’s political platform, said SRP
parliamentarian Tioulong Saumura, Sam Rainsy’s wife.
Saumura admitted that until
recently many older Cambodians had no idea that the youth contribution could be
“Young people are surprisingly
determined, committed, active and politically minded.
“People who have never received
political training show such a high level of maturity,” she said. “There is a
freshness and spontaneity in people who have not suffered from intimidation.
“Young are more daring and
audacious because they have not had the bad experience of suffering.”
Although many elections observers
said youths in Cambodia
want change, none could point to any strong evidence that young people were
likely to affect the upcoming elections.
“Most young people understand the
importance of politics but they just stay under the control of older
politicians,” said Khmer Students Association program coordinator Saro Sovudhi.
“Maybe in ten years young people
will have some real power,” he said.
Figures derived from official
results of the 2007 commune council elections show there are of the 11,353
elected commune councilors nationwide. However, only 163, or 1.6 percent, are
youths. There are no parliamentarians under the age of 30 despite the minimum
permissible age being 25.
Nevertheless, some education
campaigns are gearing up to encourage participation in politics.
A 2007 survey conducted by the
Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) found young
peoples’ grasp of the voting registration process was patchy.
Since then COMFREL has signed a
contract with United Nations Development Program to help run a forum before the
elections to train youth from major political parties and youth associations on
the importance of networking and cooperation in politics.
“This election is just the
beginning for youth to increase their voices,” said COMFREL executive director
But Panha said the parties don’t
let young people do much. “They have used youth movements to support them but
they don’t give them any influence or power in decision making,” he said.
The idea of the UNDP program is
to promote the idea that “if they all have a common agenda, they should come
together,” he added.
“After the election we will bring
them together again and talk about the political platforms of different parties
and how they can respond.”
The forum covers ten of Cambodia’s 185
districts but plans to expand.
The Neutral and Impartial
Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) is training youth in
monitoring and advocacy.
The Youth Council of Cambodia is
also running some education programs in 12 target provinces for 13- to
17-year-olds and for 18- to 23-year-olds. The older group looks at democracy,
the election process and good governance.