Live, Televised Debates Will Accompany Election Run-Up

Cambodia’s first-ever commune council elections will feature another first for the country: live candidate debates in six locations across the nation.

The first debate is scheduled for Jan 19 in Kompong Bay commune, Kompong Bay district, Kampot province. It will be held at Wat Pichey Odung in Kampot town, starting at 2 pm.

The Kampot debate will feature four candidates: Heng Vuth of the Khmer Democratic Party, Torng Vuthdy of the Sam Rainsy Party, Norng Nim of the CPP, and Bin Rorng of Funcinpec.

It will be followed by debates Jan 21 in Chek commune, Svay Chrum district, Svay Rieng province; Jan 23 in Veal Vong commune, Kompong Cham district, Kompong Cham province; Jan 26 in Puok commune, Puok district, Siem Reap; Jan 29 in Vol Sar commune, Samraong Tong district, Kompong Speu province; and Jan 31 Tong Laak commune, Tuol Kok district, Phnom Penh. All debates will begin at 2 pm.

Organizers had hoped the debates would be broadcast on national TV or radio, so that voters in other communes could see how they work. The National Election Committee has so far refused, saying the only way to be fair to all candidates would be to organize and broadcast debates in all 1,621 communes in the country.

The Khmer Institute for Dem­ocracy, which is sponsoring the debates along with the US-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, will videotape all six debates, so they will be available for broadcast if the government changes its mind.

Eric Kessler, NDI’s office director in Cambodia, said the idea is to show both voters and candidates how debates can be useful to them.

Each debate will be preceded by a half-day community discussion in each location, so that voters can decide which issues they would like the candidates to address.

Candidates who agree to take part will meet one day before the event with NDI trainers, who will explain how debates work and why candidates who don’t follow the rules may be disqualified.

“The rules ensure that everybody is equal in this debate,” says the information packet prepared for candidates. “The image of your party will be better if you follow the rules, than if you break the rules and are disqualified.”

Candidates will each give an opening statement. They’ll re­spond to questions from the moderator, each other, and the audience.

They will also make a closing statement. The candidates are forbidden to insult opponents, and are urged to remain unemotional if an opponent says critical things.

“Be clear and concise in your presentation,” the information packet advises. “While many party platforms are designed at national headquarters, only you know how to best describe these platforms to the voters in your commune.”

Since the idea of debates is so new to many people, Khmer-language pamphlets will be distributed to the audience, spelling out the format and rules. Audience members may not disrupt the debate, and anyone who misbehaves will be removed.

 

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