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Cambodia Elections: The Facebook Vote

Cambodian netizens are actively using Facebook to discuss, debate, and share updates about the July 28 National Assembly elections. Meanwhile, political parties are also maximizing the popular social networking site to reach out to younger voters.

Moses Ngeth, an activist and human rights advocate, admitted his mistake about his earlier assertion that Cambodian Facebook users are only concerned with entertainment issues:

Several months ago I made an interview with media saying that young people (are only) using Facebook for entertainment and their own interest. Since (the start of the) national election campaign, young people on Facebook have proven me wrong; and YES, I admit that I made a wrong comment. I have seen the increasing number of young people who are using this social platform for change. To all brave young people who are publicly standing up for their rights to choose their own leader, accept my apology

Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, daughter of late king Norodom Sihanouk and head of the royalist party, cheers her supporters gathered at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Photo by  Thomas Cristofoletti, Copyright @Demotix (7/3/2013)

Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, daughter of late king Norodom Sihanouk and head of the royalist party, cheers her supporters gathered at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Photo by Thomas Cristofoletti, Copyright @Demotix (7/3/2013)

Rachna Im, a journalist for RFI in Khmer language and a young female blogger, agreed with Moses in a Facebook message reply sent to this author:

Facebook has been used in a brand new way. Users, especially youth, have been recently using the social media as a platform of expressing their political views […] As I noticed, this is a good way to use this social media – to have one's voice heard and to also show a better situation in freedom of expression in Cambodia, not much, but at least a bit better.

However, Rachna reminded Cambodian netizens participating in political debates to respect diverse views:

They normally end up cursing others for having opposite ideas […] They believe they have freedom to support a party – but they don't respect others’ freedom to support a different party. I sometimes find myself hard to believe things posted on Facebook since I understand that that thing is probably posted by only the finger, not the brain.

Still, Rachna applauded young people for bravely expressing their thoughts and hoped that it would improve society especially the freedom of expression situation in Cambodia.

Chantra Be, a social networking manager of the Open Institute and a prominent organizer of BarCamp events in Cambodia who is known to dislike talking about politics, has recently initiated a political discussion. In an interview with this author, Chantra explained his sudden interest in politics:

Personally I don't like politics, and I do not belong to any party. I like to be in the middle. I am a citizen who has the right to vote and share my thoughts. I have read many things on Facebook that touch my heart about Cambodia's situation

Recently, Chantra questioned the role of 164 advisers of the ruling government and whether or not they have correctly advised the government on certain aspects such as health, education, judiciary, investment and the utilization of natural resource.

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 12.37.03 PM

Sovichet Tep, a high school student and one of the country's youngest bloggers, also noticed the growing importance of social media in the country:

[…] ការចែករំលែកព័ត៌មានជាច្រើននៅលើបណ្ដាញសង្គម មិនមែនទើបតែកើតមានឡើងស្របពេលជិតបោះឆ្នោតឡើយ […] បើតាមខ្ញុំចាំគឺប្រហែលនៅពាក់កណ្ដាល ឬ ចុងឆ្នាំ២០១១ អ្នកប្រើប្រាស់បណ្ដាញសង្គមហ្វេសប៊ុកចាប់ផ្ដើមប្រែប្រួល ដោយផ្ដោតលើការចែករំលែកព័ត៌មាន ព្រោះព័ត៌មានមួយចំនួនពុំត្រូវបានចាក់ផ្សាយពេញលេញតាមបណ្ដាញផ្សព្វផ្សាយដូចជាទូរទស្សន៍ឬវិទ្យុឡើយ។

[…]Information sharing has become viral not only during the start of the elections[…] To my memory, this trend started since the mid or late 2011 when Facebook users began sharing information that are not accessible via the traditional media such as TV or radio.

Although Sovichet is still young and could not yet vote, he believes that information sharing through the Internet can help him make an informed decision in the next election:

ថ្វីបើខ្ញុំពុំទាន់គ្រប់អាយុបោះឆ្នោតក្ដី (តែនឹងចូលរួមក្នុងអាណត្តិក្រោយមិនឲ្យខាន) ក៏បណ្ដាញសង្គមលើអ៊ីនធឺណិតនោះ បានបង្ហាញឲ្យខ្ញុំយល់ជាក់ច្បាស់អំពីស្ថានការណ៍នាពេលបច្ចុប្បន្ន ដើម្បីត្រៀមខ្លួនដើម្បីជ្រើសរើសគណបក្សមួយដែលខ្ញុំគិត និងសង្ឃឹមថាធ្វើបានប្រសើរសម្រាប់ប្រទេសជាតិ។

Although I am too young to vote (But I can already vote in the next election), social media has clearly educated me about the current [political] situation so that I could be well prepared to choose a party that I think and hope would prove to be good for our society.

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