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08PHNOMPENH554 CAMBODIAN ELECTIONS: LADIES FIRST, AS DEBATES GO PRIME TIME

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“161101”,”7/8/2008 8:26″,”08PHNOMPENH554″,

“Embassy Phnom Penh”,

“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,

“08PHNOMPENH403|08PHNOMPENH522|08PHNOMPENH554”,

“VZCZCXRO1592

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH

DE RUEHPF #0554/01 1900826

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

P 080826Z JUL 08

FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY”,

“UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000554

 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, PLEASE ALSO PASS TO USAID

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, KWMN, CB

SUBJECT: CAMBODIAN ELECTIONS: LADIES FIRST, AS DEBATES GO

PRIME TIME

 

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 522

B. PHNOM PENH 403

 

1. (SBU) Summary: The first multi-party candidate debate in

preparation for Cambodia\’s July 27 election took place in

Phnom Penh July 8. This initial debate featured women

candidates from four parties, as a key theme of the National

Democratic Institute (NDI\’s) USAID-financed program in

Cambodia has been strengthening women\’s participation in

politics. A second women candidates debate will occur July

9, followed by 20 further debates taking place throughout the

country. For the first time, ten of the total 22 debates

will be broadcast on state television — marking a

significant step forward in transparency and responsiveness

to voters\’ concerns. The NDI-organized debates were

initially scheduled to begin June 27, but hit a snag when NDI

presented the parties an initial list of complex and clearly

biased questions. The ruling Cambodian People\’s Party (CPP)

predictably protested, lodging a formal complaint which the

National Election Committee (NEC) quickly adjudicated. NDI

headquarters recovered smartly, dispatching a senior offical

who managed to get the debates back on track. The Deputy

Chief of Mission delivered remarks at this morning\’s opening,

which will be televised with both today\’s and tomorrow\’s

debates, noting how important it is that Cambodia\’s 8.1

million voters have the opportunity to see their candidates

respectfully interacting and discussing important issues

affecting the future of Cambodia. End Summary.

 

LADIES FIRST

————

 

2. (SBU) Female politicians who are listed candidates from

the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, the Khmer Democratic Party, the

Khmer Republican Party and FUNCINPEC participated in a

televised debate July 8. Participants had a chance to

present their party\’s platform, before taking two randomly

selected questions prepared by NDI; one question posed by a

competing political party; and three questions posed by

members of the audience. There were some technical glitches

with this first televised debate as the cameramen adapted to

the rapidly moving format. And, by chance, the (random)

selection of which parties would go on which date grouped

less competitive parties together for this first debate.

Female candidates from the more competitive CPP, SRP, NRP and

HRP will participate in a second debate July 9. However, the

opening of the debate series marked an important step forward

in this election period. In her opening remarks, DCM

expressed delight that the debates were able to go forward —

referring without explicit reference to NDI\’s successful

recovery from earlier mis-steps. DCM also noted the

importance of the debates appearing on widely watched state

television, as well as four radio stations.

 

3. (SBU) Although the current Cambodian government has a

stated policy of encouraging increased participation by women

in politics, the number of women competing for National

Assembly seats is lower than in past Cambodian elections.

However, the women who are participating are playing more

senior roles in their respective parties and are more highly

placed on the electoral lists. Prime Minister Hun Sen has

also announced plans essentially to set quotas for female

representation in provincial positions, possibly including

creating deputy governor positions specifically for women.

Therefore, the female candidates debates provide an important

opportunity for these women\’s voices to be heard.

 

LIGHT ON SUBSTANCE

—————–

 

4. (SBU) Although the July 8 debate included only women, the

debate format, questions posed, and answers provided had no

noticeable gender focus. Candidates answered NDI-formulated

questions about land use and their parties\’ foreign policy

platform and took questions from the audience about dealing

with poverty, addressing corruption, and developing the

economy. The debate was respectful, with all candidates

observing the rules and keeping to time limits. Candidates\’

answers were at times frothy — advocating peace and love,

respect for Cambodia\’s cultural heritage, and the creation of

a Ministry of Social Wellbeing. However, emboffs observing

judged this to be symptomatic of the lack of detail already

noted in the platforms of three of these parties (KAPP, KDP

and KRP). The FUNCINPEC participant was the debate\’s biggest

surprise, elucidating a more fully developed strategy than

we\’ve heard in earlier sessions, but still trying to

establish FUNCINPEC\’s credentials as the monarchists\’ party.

Perhaps not surprisingly for three parties whose leaders are

American citizens, the KAPP, KDP and KRP all advocated close

 

PHNOM PENH 00000554 002 OF 002

 

ties with the U.S. — with one candidate saying that her

party intended to negotiate visa-free entry to the U.S. and

another saying her party would solve poverty by seeking

additional foreign aid.

 

IT\’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID

———————–

 

5. (SBU) The studio audience of some 250 included

approximately 50 individuals bedecked in KDP paraphernalia

and a slightly smaller group in FUNCINPEC yellow. Two of the

three audience members chosen to pose questions were from

local NGOs — election observer NICFEC and youth group YCC.

The third audience member did not appear affiliated with any

organization and posed an impassioned question about how the

parties proposed to address poverty in Cambodia. The

audiences\’ tangible enthusiasm for this questioner\’s

presentation was a keen reminder of how important perceptions

about the economy, corruption and wealth distribution are

likely to be in this election. Poll data (ref B) shows that

a high percentage of Cambodians believe the country is headed

in the right direction. However, opposition parties — most

notably SRP — believe that the most compelling planks in

their platform combine promising better health care and more

jobs with arguments that CPP officials and their cronies are

the only ones benefiting from Cambodia\’s growth.

 

FOOTNOTE: PREAH VIHEAR

———————-

 

6. (SBU) Although the World Heritage Committee\’s decision to

list the Preah Vihear temple had not yet been publicized in

Cambodia at the time of the debate, three of the four

candidates mentioned Preah Vihear in their remarks, reminding

us of the importance many Cambodians place on this issue.

The candidates from FUNCINPEC and KRP cited the temple to

emphasize sovereignty and national pride. Later, the

FUNCINPEC rep answered a question about her party\’s highest

foreign policy priority by stressing the importance of

promoting Cambodia\’s national heritage, including temples,

and taking action against looting.

MUSSOMELI

Written by thaicables

July 16, 2011 at 6:20 am

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