NEC Will Allow NGO-Sponsored Debates

The National Election Com­mit­tee will allow a series of NGO-sponsored political debates, agreeing to terms that include secrecy around debate topics and their taping for television and radio.

The three major parties have consented to participate in public debates organized and monitored in a dozen provinces by the US-based National Democratic In­sti­tute, NDI resident Director Mark Wallem said Monday.

“The objective is…to generally get Cambodian political culture used to the idea of debate, and that includes the NEC, political parties and the public,” Wallem said.

The NEC has accepted the plan “in principle,” NEC spokes­man Leng Sochea said. He said the NEC would review the taped de­bates before deciding if they can air on television.

“If the final product is produced according to the NEC procedure, then they can offer it to any television station,” Leng Sochea said.

Him Suong, deputy general di­rec­tor of state-owned TVK, said the station will broadcast any programs approved by the NEC. Oth­er stations have vowed not to air political advertisements or news for fear of upsetting viewers.

Allowing public debate between candidates is evidence of a political atmosphere that is slowly opening to dialogue about keystone issues, Wallem said.

“I wouldn’t say [the NEC] is totally relaxed with this type of activity, but they are slowly but surely getting more relaxed about this type of activity,” he said.

It remains unclear which of the smaller parties will join the de­bates and which candidates will take the podium. Wallem estimated that NDI would oversee about 30 debates beginning in July, each in the range of 90 to 120 minutes. Only a few debates, scheduled for late June, will be taped and produced for broadcast.

Partner NGOs in participating provinces, including Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Cham and Kandal, formed the debate topics after a series of meetings with lo­cal citizens from a range of dem­o­graphic groups.

Debating candidates will not know the topics in advance, Wall­em said.

In the run-up to the 2002 commune elections, NDI monitored six debates that drew crowds but were never broadcast.

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