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Parties Increasingly Seek Youth Vote

A supporter, center, of the newly merged Cambodia National Rescue Party, holds an iPad during an election campaign in Koh Kra-bey on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - Both the ruling and opposition parties are using more and more youth to get out the vote. The Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party are each vying for the attention of the country’s 18- to 30-year-olds.

All told, these youth comprise more than 35 percent of registered voters, according to the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, an independent election watchdog.

“They could make changes in society, since they are observers of how the government implements its policies,” said Kong Ravin, head of election observers for Comfrel.

Volunteers among that demographic say they hope to enlist even more of the country’s youth in the campaign and voting processes, and they are doing it as supporters of the ruling party, the opposition and other smaller parties.

The Rescue Party has set seven policies in its platform, many of them appealing to younger voters. That includes boosting the salaries of public officials to help curb low-level corruption and increasing the minimum wage for private sector employees, many of them young factory workers.

Thy Sovantha, 19, who supports the Rescue Party, said she hopes this election will inspire younger voters to choose the leaders that they want.

“I’m eligible to vote, and it’s my role to think of my country’s future,” she said.

The CPP, meanwhile, has relied on a message of development and improvement of infrastructure.

Vannara, a twenty-something supporter of the CPP, said it was development, “including schools, roads, bridges, and so on,” that has her supporting the ruling party.

The young voters will be among more than 9 million registered voters for the July 28 election.

Sopheap, a 40-year-old businessman in Phnom Penh, said younger people’s interest in politics signals a positive step in Cambodian democracy.

“It’s good that the youth are willing to change their leaders,” he said. “This movement will result in development.”

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said today’s youth are increasingly engaged in the political process, due in part to social media, and their numbers could help determine a winner on Election Day.

“That is why the youth have become targets in the political campaign,” he said.

More than that, he said, these engaged youth will someday become Cambodia’s leaders.