PHNOM PENH —
Cambodia’s youth have not been given access or opportunity in political parties, despite the growing demographic.
About 100 youth came together for a conference in Phnom Penh to discuss how they might have better access to the political process.
Only about 5 percent of those voted into district offices are below the age of 30, and less than 1 percent of provincial representatives are that young. That’s mostly due to political parties deciding not to put the youth in elections, said Seng Rithy, head of the Khmer Institute for Development.
The parties “have no concrete policy to increase the number of youths in sub-national elections,” he said. “Another challenge is that the political parties just give opportunities to old people who have helped them since their inception.”
Representatives from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party say they understand the importance of youth in the political process. But speakers at the conference said they feel they are not given many opportunities to participate.
Increasing the number of opportunities for a demographic that comprises 70 percent of the population is very important, said Sok Pithu, executive director of the Youth Council of Cambodia.
“So far the political parties always say they are promoting the participation of youths in politics and national development but it is just rhetoric, not action, because youth roles as representatives and political leaders are very limited,” Sok Pithu said. “So the upcoming elections should be an opportunity for these political parties to enforce their pledges with the youth.”
Any Cambodian can compete in elections at the sub-national level, so long as he or she is 25 years old, said Tharn Reaksmey, an 18-year-old university student. “Once I graduate with my bachelor’s and have enough time, I’ll run in sub-national elections in my community.”