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Official Data Shows Fewer Women Running for Office in Cambodia

FILE PHOTO - Cambodia's opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker members talk during a lunch break inside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Cambodia's opposition party ended a six-month boycott of the parliament Tuesday, saying it wants to ensure that the national budget for 2017 is debated properly in the house. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Two relatively new political parties have registered a majority of women candidates for the upcoming general election.

Fewer women candidates are running for office in Cambodia’s upcoming general election than in previous years, official election data show.

Twenty political parties have registered for the July 29 election, up from only eight in the 2013 election.

However, the country’s main political party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, will not field candidates after it was dissolved last year.

Two relatively new political parties --the Beehive Social Democratic Party and Dharmacracy Party -- have registered a majority of women candidates for the election, about 58 percent of the total candidates are registered by those parties.

Other political parties registering a large proportion of women candidates include the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party at 37 percent and the Khmer Will Party at 40 percent.

But the old guard remains heavily dominated by male politicians, with only one in five candidates standing for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party being women. For other parties, such as Funcinpec and the League for Democracy Party, the figure shows less than one in ten.

Seng Reasey, the coordinator of NGO Silaka’s gender equality program, said the slow increase in the number of women candidates was due to a lack of political will from the establishment.

“We know that in our country, the placement or selection of candidates to stand in the election must be done by political parties, so each political party must have a strong political will,” she said.

“They need to understand the reasons why women have to join in, and what will be the benefits when women participate equally in their parties. Thus, there is a need to have clear gender equality in the parties.”

Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman, said that the party cared about including more women in the political process, but added that “qualifications and quality” were more important than adding more women to the ballot for “meaningless” reasons.

Kan Savang, an election monitor with watchdog Comfrel, dismissed the claims that women were under-qualified for the top political jobs.

“Before, most of the political parties always talked about the capacity of women. But if we look into this issue, it’s not about capacity, but opportunity. If women get the chance to stand ... that would allow them to obtain posts and duties to be lawmakers,” he said.

Reasey of Silaka said if the rate of women entering politics did not increase more rapidly, Cambodia would fall far short of its sustainable development goals commitment of equal participation.