Monitors Start Commune Election Training

kien svay district, Kandal prov­ince – In a peaceful bungalow outside of Phnom Penh, the Co­alition for Free and Fair Elections began a massive undertaking Tuesday.

Fifty election monitors from 15 provinces met at the L’Imprevu resort to learn how to teach up to 2 million people their rights in next year’s commune elections.

The 50 won’t do all the teaching themselves. But they are the first step in what will become a pyramid of election workers trained to get the word out between now and February, when the country’s first commune elections are scheduled to take place.

For three days, the first 50 monitors will learn how to convey sometimes complex and abstract information to others who may not have much education.

Then, the monitors will return home to teach what they learned to other teachers, who will then go on to teach still others.

Chea Vannath, chairman of the independent election monitor Coffel, said this first ever “training of trainers” seminar is a crucial step in teaching voters how democracy works.

“We need to train our trainers and educate voters about equal rights, human rights, gender and democracy, because these are all significant,” she said.

The training program is sponsored by the US Agency for International Development and Forum Syd, a Swedish non-governmental organization promoting development.

Lisa Chiles, mission director for USAID, said her organization “believes independent domestic election monitoring organizations are vitally important to the conduct of free and fair elections around the world.”

With Cambodian educational levels so low, she said, voters may not understand the rights and responsibilities of voting or how an election should proceed.

“It will be important for you to have a strategy on how to deliver your message so that your target groups can easily and quickly understand it,” she said.

Hor Som, a trainee from Pursat province, said he appreciates the chance to hone his skills and learn better teaching techniques. Despite two national elections since the wars ended, he said, most voters still don’t fully understand their rights.

In other election news, Coffel officials said in a poll of 19,736 people, four out of five of them said they don’t want proportional representation; 17 percent do; and the rest abstained.

Coffel said the government has ignored the poll results, choosing instead to retain the proportional system, which critics say is biased toward the ruling party.

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