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Local Election on 3 June 2012 – really “local”?

By: Norbert Klein Posted: May-22-2012 in
With permission – from The Cambodia Daily.
Norbert Klein

Looking to the reports in several newspapers about the beginning of the election campaign on the way towards local elections to be held on Sunday, 3 June 2012, I found mainly reports about the activities planned by the 10 parties competing (though not in all provinces and communes) using figures: how many people and trucks and cars and motorcycles moved around Phnom Penh campaigning - “showing off” but hardly any reference to local issues raised while appealing to voters. The emphasis is on the names of the political parties and their leaders.

The Cambodian People's Party [CPP] parade comprised about 600 cars - “a substantial fleet of Lexuses and other luxury SUVs” reported The Cambodia Daily - and 3,000 motorbikes.

The Sam Rainsy Party parade had only about 100 vehicles.

The two small royalist parties announced they avoid big spending for their election campaigns.

Of course there are also issues and campaign platforms mentioned – but in very general terms:

“Vote for the CPP and the country will have peace and development.”

For the FUNCINPEC, its Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay, said his “party's 18-point platform included solving land disputes, judicial reform, adopting new laws and eliminating corruption, drug trafficking, robbery and the exploitation of women and children. FUNCINPEC also supports higher salaries for police, soldiers and teachers as well as expanding the education, agriculture and health sectors.” But he did not say how.

The Human Rights Party led by Ken Sakha planned to use only 25 trucks, 10 cars, and 80 motorcycles. Members of this party prayed at the Wat Phnom pagoda “to ward off any curses that might have been made against the party” and especially against those who curse the Human Rights Party as being a puppet of another party – referring obviously to the accusation that this party was created under the influence of the CPP.

The Sam Rainsy Party manifesto aims to get rid of bribery, and to reduce the cost of living for ordinary people. But again – as in the promises of other parties – there is nothing related to the character of local elections, and the other goals are quite general without much specific plans for their implementation.

When I was in my home country of Germany in 2010, it happened that it was campaign time for local elections. Of course most of the candidates were members of parties that have a national standing, but there were also individual independent candidates. All of them referred in their posters and speeches to local situations – to their city in the case of small cities, or just to one of the electoral districts in the case of bigger cities: discussing the need to reconstruct or increase a particular school in their district, or to the way and timing garbage is collected, or to environmental problems in their local region because of conflicts between industrial pollution coming from a factory being a problem for the residents of the area. But it is always local people who appeal to local voters, as one candidate's poster I saw made it clear: “I have my ideas – but you have the votes.”

All this leads to public meetings where the candidates of different parties have to explain why they would like to get voted for – presenting their various plans and visions for the next couple of years – and the affected citizens can base their electoral choices on what the different candidates have presented.

Will there be any such meetings in Phnom Penh – or in other communities of the country – where the candidates of different parties competing in the same administrative region can present and explain what they stand for and why, and how they want to achieve their plans practically – improvements – changes – developments.

There are enough issues in Phnom Penh to be handled in a way that contributes to solving problems and arranging measures for the future of all the people affected locally.

Will there be public discussions about the issue of the filled in Boeung Kak lake's future – now that the Cambodia contractor and the Chinese company involved seem to have at least interrupted, or maybe even ceased to cooperate? Will the candidates of the different parties trying to get elected into the local Phnom Penh councils discuss this with each other, and with the public? At present, if seems that hardly anybody else but the victims losing their living spaces are concerned with the disappearing lake. But also the city of Phnom Penh lost a flooding basin, and the citizens in general lost an area of recreation. When I was recently in Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar and saw how people enjoy the lakes in the city for booting, I remembered the time in the early and mid 1990ies when such sports for young people and whole families became possible also in Phnom Penh.

More than national elections, local elections can be the field where politicians and the people can engage together and consider the different options best suited for all. But this can happen only when those who want to get the votes are prepared to publicly say and defend their positions, and when those who have the right to vote also make efforts, sometimes encountering difficulties to find the necessary information but do not give up, to find out in detail on which issues they are expected to cast their ballots.


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