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Young activists take to the streets ahead of the Cambodian elections
Thousands of young activists are taking to the streets and to social media demanding a change in government. An unprecedented number of young Cambodians are taking part in elections next weekend with more than one third of registered voters aged between 18 and 30. While the ruling CPP is expected to win, the long serving government of Prime Minister Hun Sen is not resting on its laurels either, enlisting its own army of young supporters.

James Oaten reports.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: It's been dubbed the Cambodia spring.

Thousands of young activists taking to the streets and to social media demanding a change in government. An unprecedented number of young Cambodians are taking part in elections next weekend. With more than one third of registered voters aged between 18 and 30.

While the ruling CPP is expected to win, the long serving government of Prime Minister Hun Sen is not resting on its laurels either, enlisting its own army of young supporters.

In a moment I'll be speaking with Cambodia's Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy, but first James Oaten reports.

JAMES OATEN, REPORTER: It's a Cambodian election campaign unlike any the country has seen. Politicians dance on stage as a rock band encourages young people to show their support for the Cambodian National Rescue Party.

MU SOCHUA, CNRP SENIOR MEMBER: I think that to say it's a foregone conclusion. It's too easy, it's not giving hope. I want to talk about hope. Of course it's not free and fair elections. Of course, but that's what we are fighting for.

JAMES OATEN: Cambodia's Opposition says this year presents the best chance of winning an election and toppling Prime Minister Hun Sen after his almost three decades at the helm.

The optimism stems from the merging of Cambodia's major opposition parties last year giving it a louder and more unified voice.

It's campaigning with promises to stamp out corruption and improve wages and opportunities.

MU SOCHUA: What is the future of the youth in Cambodia so far? No jobs, even if there are jobs the wages are so low it's not living wage. It's almost exploitation.

JAMES OATEN: Behind the Opposition's campaign is the likes of Kimsuor Lim known as GG, a 24-year-old university student with a love for social media. She says utilising the Internet is paramount as much of the mainstream media is government aligned.

KIMSUOR LIM, CNRP SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAINGNER (TRANSLATED): Initially the youth, including myself didn't understand the election and were not interested in Facebook or politics but later I began to understand the many problems in our society. I try to explain issues to people and send them pictures and messages via Facebook.

JAMES OATEN: The Opposition is hanging much of its campaign on young voters and for good reason. There are more than 9.5 million registered voters in Cambodia, of which 3.5 million are aged between 18 and 30. This part of Phnom Penh is dubbed the CPP youth corner, the central location for the distribution of campaign material.


CPP SUPPORTER (TRANSLATED): I feel the same as other youths of CPP who support CPP based on one, Cambodia is now peaceful, two, we have political stability and three, we are developing all types of industries. Who is responsible? The CPP.

JAMES OATEN: And like the Opposition, the Government's enlisting Facebook to spread the word.


BORUS, CPP SUPPORTER (TRANSLATED): All youths, including my CPP members, friends and I, are expressing the support through Facebook.

PHAY SIPHAN, GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: My Prime Minister said the future of Cambodia is the youth so the youth play very critical and important.

KOUL PANHA, COMMITTEE FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS: We are so happy and proud about the participation of young people in the election. Through the social media, they got a lot of information about election, about the politic and they share among themselves and that's very positive.

JAMES OATEN: Although this election appears to have all the elements of a contemporary campaign, there remains serious concern about whether the election will be fair?

The committee for free and fair elections, or COMFREL has a lot of concerns such as lack of transparency of election procedures and an unequal playing field with the Government controlling the media and allegations of vote buying. One survey showed one in 10 names on the electoral roll is bogus.

KOUL PANHA: In terms of fairness it's not yet improvement, fairness of election campaign has not yet improvement however the environment, the freeness of the election campaign has been improved because there are less violence than previous election.

JAMES OATEN: Members of the US Congress are threatening to withdraw aid if the elections are undemocratic. But the CPP says there's nothing to worry about saying all parties have the rights to monitor polling stations on election day. It's accusing NGOs and the US of bias.

PHAY SIPHAN: A number of policy makers, law makers from the United States... they do campaign against like a threat to independence and sovereignty and a threat to hijack the will of the people.

JAMES OATEN: But COMFREL says it's determined to uncover any voting irregularities. It has 10,000 election observers, 70 per cent of whom are young people. But with 19,000 polling stations across the country, Koul Panha admits he simply doesn’t have the power to ensure fairness.

Irrespective of the election outcome, the Opposition is convinced the tides of change have begun.

The return of leader Sam Rainsy from exile will compound that belief and it's likely that even if the Cambodian National Rescue Party lose they will not be silenced.

JIM MIDDLETON: James Oaten reports.
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