The National Democratic Institute has agreed to change the format of a planned television and radio debate series among political parties after successful protests by a little-known party to the National Elections Committee, officials said Wednesday.
Ban Sophal, president of the newly established Society of Justice Party, said he complained because the original NDI debate series was unfair, as it determined the number of debates each party could participate in based on “equity” instead of “equality.”
According to the original NDI plan, participation by political parties in a total of 31 debates was to be determined by the party’s size and prominence, rather than equal participation for all.
Instead, NDI will now hold a total of 22 debates in 10 of the most populous provinces.
All 11 parties that registered for the election and are fielding candidates in those selected provinces will be invited to participate in the debates, said NDI Country Director Jerome Cheung, noting that each party can participate in a maximum of 11 debates.
Two special NDI debates will also be held in Phnom Penh for female candidates, an unprecedented move, Cheung said.
“It does not abide by law perfectly, but it is fair now,” Ban Sophal said of the NDI efforts to equalize participation.
The Society of Justice Party has also filed a second complaint with the NEC demanding equal access for all parties participating in the UN Development Program’s Equity News, a televised news show that’s slated for TVK and national radio stations.
The Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, another of the small parties taking part in the election, has joined the SJP in calling on the UNDP to divide coverage on the show equally among the 11 parties, instead of “equitably.”
Equity News allocates its airtime based on how many provinces in which a party is fielding candidates and a party’s performance in the 2003 and 2007 elections, according to UNDP.
“Equity News is a media program and not an organized political debate or forum,” said Aamir Arain of UNDP, in a statement issued Wednesday evening.
“Political parties can air their message using their own agendas during a political debate, while Equity News is a news program where TVK reporters have editorial control over content,” he said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Wednesday the complaint is being investigated.
“We have sent it to UNDP for explanation,” he said, adding that he anticipates that Equity News would get NEC approval.
“It is a media program and not purely political party agenda,” he said.
Ban Sophal, however, said that he would complain to the Constitutional Council if he did not get a satisfactory response from the NEC.
“International organizations are infected by a bias virus,” he said.