Campaign Rules the Airwaves—But Are Messages Heard?

Tune into state television and the radio these days, and you’re bound to hear it: Cambodia’s latest hit song and video, “Let’s Go to Vote” by the National Election Committee.

The time is coming now.

We all have to go to vote

for democracy, freedom and justice

to elect the leaders we think are good…

…So don’t miss out!

It is the Khmer people’s duty

to decide the future fate of our children.

A week into the campaign, viewers have been deluged with more than four hours a day of voter education spots and party propaganda as 39 political parties vie for voters’ attention.

But the format of the airwaves campaigning—five minute spots for each party and structured “roundtable” forums on state-operated television and radio—has many parties complaining they don’t have enough time to get their message out.

And they may have some heavy-hitting supporters in the UN, which has been carefully mon­itoring how much media access opposition parties have be­fore the July 26 elections.

UN Secretary-General Kofi An­nan is expected to make a statement next week on the conditions that exist for the elections, sources say. And media access for opposition—one of the five con­­ditions on which the UN ag­reed to coordinate international observers—will be one of the criteria Annan is likely to assess.

While it is unknown just what Annan will say next week, recent statements by his local representative, Lakhan Mehro­tra, have been less than an en­dorsement of the NEC’s media policy.

“I would say five minutes a day by each party multiplied by 30 is a good proposition, but not sufficient to educate the voter, carry conviction with him, to make him familiar with the niceties of every party’s distinct programs,” Meh­rotra said last week.

Under the NEC rules, all political advertisements are banned from airwaves and newspapers except for the five-minute spots run by the NEC from 12 to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 7:30 pm each day on state-run TVK. Equal time is also allocated on national radio. Pri­vate stations are banned from airing political ads but are allowed to broadcast election information spots as a public service.

“Since many of [the parties] have entered the political scene a little late, a scope for better exposure for them would add to the quality of the climate necessary for the elections,” Mehrotra said.

Opposition parties had been pushing for greater access, pre­ferably their own television or radio frequencies, to counter the CPP’s dominance of the airwaves—state-operated and private—since fighting erupted last July, leading to the ouster of Prince Norodom Rana­riddh.

Funcinpec radio and television were taken over by CPP-friendly operators after the July clashes. Former finance minister Sam Rainsy’s party has been denied a license for a radio station by the Ministry of Information. The Son Sann Party of National Assembly Second Vice President Son Soubert has a license, but no equipment to start a station.

So what are the political parties doing with their five minutes of fame each day? So far, saying pretty much what they were expected to say.

The CPP’s early television shots showed old footage of the liberation of Phnom Penh in January 1979, a reminder that the CPP’s leaders were involved in the Vietnamese invasion that ousted the horrific Khmer Rouge regime. Other clips show Hun Sen, Chea Sim, Heng Samrin and Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, distributing gifts and helping farmers harvest their rice.

Funcinpec has been trading heavily on its royal connection. Prince Ranariddh is shown in a photo with his father, King Noro­dom Sihanouk. Sam Rainsy has railed against government corruption and ac­cused the CPP of repression and political killings.

The small Free Development Republican Party showed photo after photo of party president Ted Ngoy with prominent US political leaders, including former US presidents George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Sangkum Thmei featured a surprise guest in its spots—Ek Mongkol, the “Golden Voice” of former Funcinpec radio who was shot by unknown assailants in 1996.

Mam Sonando, president of the Bee Hive Party, promised to reduce the term of the government from five years to four and to create a special commission to monitor corruption and government salaries.


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