Parties to Get 15 Minutes Airtime—But No Debate Please

The National Election Committee (NEC) on Thursday announced that state-run TVK will air a series of pre-recorded promotional spots for the eight political parties contesting the July 28 national election, but questions were raised about the format, which will prohibit any inter-party debates from taking place.

A two-hour slot will be given over to the eight parties—15 minutes each—to be aired in the morn­ing and afternoon on the television station, as well as state-run FM 96 MHz and Wat Phnom station FM 105.7 radio between June 27 and July 26.

The parties can use their allotted 15-minute spots to deliver an individual message or they can participate in a group setting in which a representative from each party would get 15 minutes to read out prepared remarks about party policies.

But the absence of debate, spontaneity and ability to challenge each other in the TV spots is a problem, said Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesman Yim Sovann, who is also running as a candidate in the election.

“There is no debate in place like other democratic countries because all the shows are pre-recorded,” he said.

“The group show also consists of no debate because we will just sit and read our party’s political platform,” he said, adding that some spots had already been produced.

The upcoming election will determine which parties gain seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, which the ruling CPP has dominated since 1998. More than 9.6 million Cambodians are registered to vote in an election that has seen the number of parties contesting seats dwindle from 23 in the 2003 elections to just eight.

Chan Yet, deputy president of the little-known Republican Democracy Party, said he regretted that the TV spots would not allow parties to challenge each other on policy and platform.

“Our party’s platform is to find justice and serve Cambodians” who have been affected by land disputes and social injustice, he said.

Laura Thornton, country director for the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, said her organization was trying to forge ahead with plans to hold radio and TV debates for the candidates, as they have done in previous elections, but was facing obstacles from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

Even though the ruling party has participated in such debates before, which have been approved for 2013 by the NEC, “the CPP has questioned the legality of holding national candidate debates by referring to [The Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly] Article 5 and we are trying to resolve it,” she said.

It is not clear why the CPP has flagged that particular article, which says that elections must be fair and the electoral system proportional, with provincial and municipal representation.

“I think there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them [the TV spots] from being creative and interesting,” Ms. Thornton said.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said that all political parties were responsible for filming their own spots.

“They are responsible for covering the expenses and can film wherever they want,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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