One of the most rewarding aspects of my 25-year career overseas working for democracy organizations was organizing candidate debates. Particularly in countries where it had never been done. In 2013, we pulled off Cambodia’s first televised debate that included the participation of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) on a stage alongside the opposition. This was (and is) unheard of in the Cambodian political context where opposition leaders are more likely to be put in jail than given a microphone on mainstream media.
The negotiation process with the government was painstaking, and I spent hours with the CPP party chair convincing him that a debate was advantageous. I tried every argument — the public should see their options and make an informed choice; it was an opportunity to showcase the CPP’s achievements; it gave space to counter opposition claims against them; it signals Cambodia’s democratic credentials.