The daily life in Phnom Penh seems to be far away from the politics of the United States – yet the presidential elections are coming closer and information on the campaign drama is available in Cambodia, too. What do ordinary Cambodians think about the upcoming US presidential elections? My colleague and I intend to find out. We stroll around close by streets stopping by everyone we see: street vendors, shopkeepers, and tuktuk drivers. Again and again we receive similar answers: the people do not know anything about US politics. They have either no time or interest to follow the news and have not heard anything. If they have heard something, the source of information has been Facebook.
Finally we meet a pensioner who is holding his grandchild in his arms and agrees to talk about his views. He is actively following the elections on CNN. He regards the US citizens’ role in decision-making as very important.
He would have Hillary Clinton win because he sees that she has a lot of experience in politics and an education that matches the job. The candidate, who has been active in social justice issues, should become the first female president of the country.
University students, non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers and lawyers have been following the election campaigns actively and formed their own albeit similar opinions about the elections. Some have not read a lot but have still learned about the events from friends or via Facebook.
No one says that Donald Trump is likely to win or that he should win. Some are, however, unsure about the outcome of the elections.
The scandals surrounding both of the candidates have not gone unnoticed by Cambodians. A lawyer regards that the voters have to choose between two not so great candidates. However, most people still believe that Trump’s popularity has dropped much more due to his treatment of women.
A 23-year-old woman who works at an NGO sees the elections as a big challenge for the US citizens because neither of the candidates is as good as Barack Obama.
- Both have done bad things, especially Trump. He is so funny, how can he be a candidate, she wonders.
People see Clinton as someone who is more experienced in politics but also softer and interested in different kinds of issues than Trump. Trump, on the other hand, is seen almost as a comical character, who at the same time might not be as peaceful as Clinton.
Some interviewees raised the point that Clinton would be the first female president of the United States and this would be desirable for the country. This also makes the elections about gender equality. This theme was emphasised by the locker room scandal according to one of the interviewees.
In any case, many Cambodians seem to think that it is difficult for the voters to decide, which candidate to select. For some, on the other hand, understanding the elections is difficult because of the differences of the US political system compared to Cambodia.
Nevertheless, many of the interviewees see the political event itself as positive. For a woman working at an NGO, the elections represent freedom since the voters can choose whom to vote for. An International Relations student praises the fact that the president of the United States can only serve for two terms. An English teaching student admires that one can talk about the president openly. The presidential debates are also regarded as a good concept helping the voters to make up their mind about the candidates.
Most of the interviewees get their information on the elections via Facebook. They are following news sites such as the CNN or the BBC that provide their newsfeed with the latest turns in the race. Some of the interviewees also mentioned watching TV, especially CNN. One of the interviewees almost exclusively gets his information on the radio.
When asked whether and how the president of the United States affects Cambodia, the respondents give varied answers. A young woman working at an NGO suggested that Trump would cause problems for Cambodians who want to move to the USA. A lawyer suggests that Cambodia is not so interesting for the US economically but because of the South China Sea issue, the US might want to work with Cambodia. A man who works at an NGO suggests that the US president, especially a Democrat, attempts to influence the human rights situation in Cambodia.
In the hallway of a university, an education student gets excited about the topic and happily shares his thoughts. He does not regard either of the candidates as a good leader because of their characteristics: Trump does not understand poor people and Clinton has been dishonest about some issues. Nevertheless, he would choose Clinton to win.
However, he tells that he loved Bernie Sanders who is older and more experienced. He thinks that the leader of the United States should be curious about how to treat people.
- I wish that Michelle Obama would run for president in the coming years – she is a strong woman, he says and smiles.
The interviewees have been made anonymous in order to protect their privacy.