A popular program to educate Cambodians about upcoming elections through dance and drama has been crippled by a lack of funds, its organizers say.
Before the 1998 elections, the Neutral Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections put on more than 1,000 performances of “When We Are Married,” which teaches lessons on democracy and voting procedures in a love story. The performances typically attracted more than 3,000 people, Nicfec executive director Hang Puthea said.
But this year, Nicfec will probably only be able to put on 120 performances, Hang Puthea said. The 1998 donor, the European Union, declined to fund the program again. Funding was restored by the US government and Forum Syd, a Swedish NGO, but in smaller amounts, he said.
With an often-low level of literacy but a love for storytelling, Cambodians are more likely to sit through a performance than to read a leaflet or handbook, said Kek Galabru, president of the Nicfec board of directors.
“Classic voter education can be boring for them, but everyone likes drama,” she said.
Nicfec had hoped to get the performances started before voter registration in August, but didn’t have the money, Kek Galabru said.
Written by Hang Puthea and based on a true story, “When We Are Married” is about two young lovers whose families do not approve of the marriage because they are from different political parties. The families eventually approve of the wedding, sending a message about the need for separation between political and civil society.
The message may have particular resonance in Cambodia, officials say. In a poll last year, 58 percent of Cambodians said they would break off a friendship with a person who joined an unpopular party.
Some of those tensions are easing due to the coalition between the CPP and Funcinpec Party, Hang Puthea noted.
The performances will begin in mid-November. Five troupes of 18 actors who will fan out throughout the country. The basic plot remains the same as in 1998, but the commune election version will include information on topics such as decentralization, Hang Puthea said.
Nicfec has appealed to the Japanese government for additional funding, Hang Puthea said. Nicfec wants to put on at least 12 performances in each province, at a cost of $400 each, for a total cost of about $115,000.