Claiming Bias, SRP Boycotts Youth Debate

The Sam Rainsy Party boycotted a youth debate sponsored by the International Republican Institute in Battambang town on Sunday because of a “biased” venue choice, said Battambang provincial SRP Youth Movement Director Suon Chamroeun.

“The theater belongs to the CPP, and it was decorated with the CPP’s logos,” he said. “People would think that the debate was organized by the CPP.”

SRP members distributed fliers in and around the Stung Sangke Theater that pointed out CPP signs that were reportedly affixed to the outdoor walls of the venue.

“Sam Rainsy Youth Movement would like to request IRI to hold debates in Battambang at neutral places to make sure that all political parties can participate equally according to the principles of free and fair elections,” the statement read.

John Willis, resident country director of the IRI, said the venue was selected because it is the biggest in town.

“This debate was at a public venue, where on the outside walls there were some CPP signs, so [SRP] thought that was unfair,” Willis said. “But the other opposition parties had no problem with it, and having signs there certainly didn’t seem to keep others from showing up or asking questions or giving responses.”

Nearly 450 people from the CPP, Funcinpec, Norodom Rana­riddh Party and Human Rights Party participated in the two-hour debate Sunday morning, Willis said. It was the second of five debates for political activists younger than 30 years old planned by IRI for this election season.

Suon Chamroeun, 26, was scheduled to represent the SRP in the discussion, but pulled out about an hour before the 8:30 am event, Willis said. Willis also noted that the parties have known about the venue selection since June 20.

“I think the purpose of this little stunt is a stunt itself. I think [SRP members] feel they get more at­ention by saying something is unfair rather than coming in and participating,” Willis said.

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