Khmer Times took the extraordinary step of organising a series of roundtable discussions with political parties registered to contest this Sunday’s general election. All parties turned up except for three. Some even returned for a one-on-one dialogue with the host, Khmer Times’ Chief Operating Officer – a seasoned TV presenter.
The stark difference between the 17 parties which attended the roundtable discussions which were broadcast live over Facebook and video clips of which were posted on YouTube and Khmer Times website, was that only three parties appeared to be truly well organised, had substance over rhetoric, had an agenda against a wish-list, had organised thoughts versus verbal diarrhoea and had structure compared to others.
It is also apparent that based on the feedback from the viewers of our Facebook live and our website and YouTube, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) and to a smaller extent, the Cambodia Youth Party (CYP), had done their homework in almost all aspects, except the part where they were not sure of the voter turnout and which segment of the voters they were targeting. The GDP appears to be the most credible opposition party that can challenge the predominant role of the CPP in the future.
But at the moment CPP is miles ahead in the competition in terms of organisation, structure, funding, strategy, manifesto, social media use and alternate media to get their message and agenda across to the masses.
That they have embraced social media as one of their key political campaign tools speaks volumes of how much the party has evolved since the 2013 general election. The challenge for the CPP and the other 19 other political parties is how to win over the estimated 3 million voters who had cast their ballots for the opposition in 2013.
Malaysia’s election results have also appeared to have sunk in the minds of Cambodia’s politicians and it seems no one is taking anything for granted now. Fence-sitters and those who have remained silent so far can sway the results of elections at the last minute. There are an estimated 8.4 million registered voters and we advise all those eligible to vote to cast their ballots early, taking into consideration the rather uncooperative weather and possible flashfloods.
The CPP is going for continuity and according to the political grapevine, the cabinet to be formed after July 29 could feature some surprises with additional youth and female candidates taking up positions in the government while some veterans may be moved around or even dropped. This 2018 election is about certainty, continuity, stability and social order in the face of numerous challenges from external and internal sources that have tried everything from the threats of armed insurrection to calls for an election boycott to scuttle the campaign. It is also about continued economic growth and the improvement of the living standards of 16 million Cambodians.
Irrespective of how many seats the opposition may garner, democracy will win in the 2018 general election and there is the off chance that finally, after 25 years since the first general election in 1993, there is a possibility of multi-party representation in the National Assembly – living up to the proportionate representation system of the election’s early promise.
Khmer Times has to a large extent silenced Cambodia’s detractors who claim that press freedom is dead and the 2018 election is a sham. Our Election 2018 Roundtable Discussions were aired live on Facebook and the recording posted verbatim on our website without censorship or editing. It is probably the first for any print medium in Cambodia.
Despite the odds, this shows that press freedom and democracy are alive and well in Cambodia. Khmer Times will continue to engage political leaders from all political parties after the election in order to help strengthen and open public debates on emerging issues. We believe that political pluralism and multi-stakeholder dialogue are fundamental to building a strong nation and we will strive towards that.