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NDI Gathers Parties for Debate Introductions

The National Democratic Institute on Thursday gathered representatives from each of the 11 competing parties to encourage them to discuss their policies in a "productive manner" ahead of scheduled debates for July's elections.

NDI is preparing to record and broadcast 22 debates among the parties, including eight on national television, to provide them "the opportunity to articulate their ideas freely and challenge those of their opponents in a fair and equal manner," said Jerome Cheung, Cambodia representative for the US-based group.

"NDI hopes that these debates will demonstrate that, while candidates from different parties have different policies and opinions, they can discuss these differences in a productive manner, free from violence or retribution," Cheung said.

NDI had scheduled a more than 30 debates, some of them only between the major parties, but revamped the format following complaints by minor parties.

In public forums in 2004 and 2005 held by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, ruling Cambodian People's Party supporters were interruptive and Sam Rainsy Party supporters provoked them through negative attacks, said Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, who was head of the human rights center when the forums were held.

This environment led to the failure of forums, as supporters of the two parties would nearly come to blows, he said.

He supported the view of NDI discouraging the use of attacks or negative words during the debates, Kem Sokha said.