Lessons on Democracy Handed Out at Festival

In addition to boat racing, some visitors to this year’s Water Festival will have a chance to learn the rules of another major event: democracy.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections plans to distribute 50,000 posters and booklets to festival-goers designed to teach them about their role in electing commune leaders next February.

The booklets contain 102 questions and answers on subjects as varied as human rights, freedom, decentralization, the campaigns, vote-counting, filing polling complaints and the functions of the new commune councils.

The posters, illustrated for easy understanding for those who are illiterate, hang in public places. One poster on vote-buying shows a cycle of corruption. A poor family accepts a small gift from a politician who, when elected, accepts much larger gifts while ignoring the law (symbolized by his sitting on a law book).

Widespread poverty, illiteracy and corruption in government have made voters vulnerable to selling their vote for a small gift, said Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel.

“We want voters, especially the rural people, to understand the impact of vote-selling, vote-buying and everything else about elections,” he said.

Citizens also need to understand their role in democracy goes beyond just casting a vote and includes monitoring their leaders and protecting human rights, Koul Panha said.

The booklets are being distributed by about 30 activists at five main entrances to the festival, Koul Panha said. The major expense for the campaign is $4,500 in printing costs, and the main funder is Japan, he said.

San Thida, a 23-year-old farmer from Kompong Speu province, said the documents would help him because he understood little about the election.

“I will bring these things home so my family and villagers can read them, so they will know what they have to do,” he said.

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