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Cablegate: Cambodia Elections: Lead Parties Go Head-to-Head

VZCZCXRO2769
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0558/01 1911202
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091202Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000558

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL
USAID FOR ASIA BUREAU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KDEM KWMN CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA ELECTIONS: LEAD PARTIES GO HEAD-TO-HEAD
DURING SECOND FEMALE CANDIDATE DEBATE

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 554
B. PHNOM PENH 522
C. PHNOM PENH 403

1. (SBU) Summary: A ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP)
candidate and lead opposition party Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)
candidate faced off for the first time this pre-election
season during a video-recorded political debate of female
candidates on July 9. The debate was part of a 22-debate
series in advance of the July 27 elections, and was the
second of two female candidate debates (Ref A). Norodom
Ranariddh Party (NRP) and League for Democracy Party (LDP)
candidates also participated in the July 9 debate. As the
moderator pointed out, the National Democratic Institute
(NDI) used a debate format that could ensure a fair and
impartial setting for dialogue. Listening to and watching
the candidate dialogues, one might not have known that two of
the relatively tame candidates belong to the two lead, rival
parties in hotly contested Phnom Penh. The audience had
segregated itself into CPP and SRP ballcap and t-shirt
donning factions with NRP and LDP supporter pockets in
corners of the room. However, the debate succeeded in
providing a non-threatening, organized forum for the four
candidates to provide information on their party's platforms
and plans. The debate is scheduled to be televised on July
10 and July 11. End Summary.

CPP and SRP Candidates Face Off
-------------------------------

2. (SBU) Four female political party candidates from the
CPP, SRP, NRP and LDP participated in a second debate on July
9. This was the first time during this pre-election season
that candidates from the CPP and SRP have come to the same
venue to discuss the issues. The Phnom Penh candidates were
civil to one another, to the point that it was difficult to
discern that two of the debaters are members of the leading
rival parties in a hotly contested district, judging from
their demeanor and their mostly tame statements during the
debate. The CPP was represented by Krouch Soman, and the SRP
by Lysrey Vina.

Debaters Stick To Party Platforms
---------------------------------

3. (SBU) There were few surprises in the debate content and
debaters stuck mostly to their party platforms. For the CPP
candidate, that meant a focus on the CPP's governing track
record and achievements such as building roads, schools, and
other infrastructure, and increasing economic development.
The SRP candidate repeated the SRP platform to pass the
anti-corruption law, and to tackle inflation, unemployment
and poverty issues. The NRP candidate stated the party's
commitment to the monarchy, and repeatedly pointed out the
monarchy's role in bringing peace to Cambodia through the
signing of the Paris peace agreement. The LDP candidate
focused on the party's proposal to give power to the
Cambodian people, stressing that citizens should exercise
their rights and freedoms to participate in government.

A Scant Few Nail-Biters
-----------------------

4. (SBU) A tense interaction arose during the portion of the
debate when party members are allowed to ask a question of
one other, pre-determined party candidate. The CPP debater
was designated, by a lottery draw before the debate, to ask
the SRP candidate one question, and asked: "The SRP held 24
seats in the National Assembly during this last mandate; what
has the SRP done to help the Cambodian people besides
inciting them to demonstrate?" Before the SRP candidate
could reply, the moderator stopped the debate momentarily and
requested that the candidates review the rules and
guidelines, and stated that candidates are not to make
statements that would directly criticize individuals or
parties. However, upon review of the rules and guidelines
for the debate, it was not apparent which rule was broken --
they generally restrict debaters from making personal insults
or attacks towards other candidates or parties. The SRP
member did not appear particularly phased, and responded that
the SRP seeks to pass and then enforce an anti-corruption
law; after passage, the SRP would use increased government
revenues from tax collection to pay for civil servant
salaries and building roads.

5. (SBU) Preah Vihear came up during the July 9 debate, as
it had during the July 8 debate. This time, the SRP
candidate lauded the inscription of Preah Vihear as a UNESCO

PHNOM PENH 00000558 002 OF 002


World Heritage Site, but asked listeners "not to forget" that
the land surrounding the temple was not designated as part of
the site, and that the issue of the land surrounding the
temple has not been solved. She stated that Cambodia might
give up a little bit of its land one day, then a little bit
more the next day. She also stated that land is lost through
economic land concessions. There were guffaws from the
audience at the comments.

Noisy Audience
--------------

6. (SBU) The moderator interrupted the debates a second time
after the SRP debater pointed out that the audience was
unruly during statements of the LDP candidate. The moderator
asked that there be order among audience members. Emboff
observed that the crowd was mostly quiet during the CPP
candidate's statements, but that laughing and talking among
some audience members during the statements of the other
three candidates made it difficult to hear the debate at
times. The noise seemed to be coming from the CPP-wear clad
portion of the crowd.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) As we tick off debate number two of twenty-two, we
can say that the debates are going as they were intended: in
a fair, neutral fashion in a generally positive atmosphere.
The noise level of the crowd during the second debate could
have been controlled by the NDI-chosen moderator who mostly
seemed unconcerned with the immature laughter and chatter,
and was obviously not the fault of the debaters themselves.
Emboff sat near two CPP supporters and overheard one ask the
other whether he would be able to ask a question during the
debate. The other CPP supporter told him no, that the
questions had been decided in advance, and all that he had to
do was cheer. While he may have been there just to cheer on
his party candidate, the debate succeeded in giving him a
chance to hear the platforms of a number of candidates to
which he might not have been exposed before.
MUSSOMELI

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