Comfrel Launches Text Messaging Campaign Designed at Questioning Lawmakers

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) has launched a program aimed at putting voters in direct contact with candidates running in this month’s national election.

The project, titled “Ask the Candidates,” and which was officially launched on Friday, allows voters to send questions via SMS text message to lawmaker aspirants from four of the eight parties contesting the national election.

“When people send an SMS, it appears in our system, and we send it to the parties,” said Phat Sopheak, project organizer for Comfrel.

“When they reply, we check the reply. If it is right, we send it on.”

Mr. Sopheak said that since Friday about 30 questions had been answered and that another 122 questions were awaiting an answer from candidate lawmakers.

The project currently claims seven candidates—two from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, League For Democracy Party (LDP) and Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP) and one from the Cambodian National Party—but Mr. Sopheak said he expected more parties would join before July 28.

LDP lawmaker candidate Chhoeuy Bunthoeurn said Monday that he hoped the program would help his party disseminate its policies to voters.

“We hope voters will understand our policies more clearly through this program,” Mr. Bunthoeurn said. “When they know and understand our party’s policies, they will vote for us.”

KAPP lawmaker candidate Khem Sokha mirrored this view, saying he hoped the project would give his little-known party much needed exposure before the election.

“It will help to inform the general public that our party is the one who will bring the real democracy to Cambodia,” he said, adding that the questions he had received so far had been related to land grabbing, electricity prices and his party’s youth policies.

While Mr. Sopheak acknowledged the limitations of political discussion via text message, he hoped the focus on mobile phones would allow more people in the provinces to engage with electoral candidates.

Voters hoping to be put in contact with the prime minister or other ruling party lawmaker candidates, however, might be disappointed, he noted.

“We sent a letter to the CPP, but they said they are very busy and cannot be part of this platform,” Mr. Sopheak said. “We don’t know if that’s an excuse or the real reason.”

“It is our regret that they cannot join, it would be better with them,” he added.

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