Despite starting with a bang just a week ago, the Land Traffic Law has already been subject to two amendments from Prime Minister Hun Sen in direct response to a public outcry on Facebook, a stark contrast to the premier’s usual attitude toward online criticism.
In a video posted to his Facebook page on Thursday, Mr. Hun Sen defended his decision—announced in a statement on Wednesday—to amend the law so that drivers of motorbikes with engines smaller than 125cc no longer require a license.
“It’s the need of millions of people, so the Royal Government decided to issue a decision to eradicate [the requirement to] make driver’s licenses,” he said in the 20-minute video, adding that licenses were worthless if people didn’t know the law, and therefore his decision was ahead of the curve.
“Although we have licenses for cars, if we don’t know how to drive, or drive against the law by speeding, or overloading, it still causes accidents,” he said. “So I would like to clarify that the government has gone one step ahead.”
Mr. Hun Sen also said that those who had already paid for licenses or driving tests would be compensated, and various ministries would be meeting to discuss cutting the price for obtaining car licenses by “at least half.”
January 1 saw nearly 2,000 traffic police officers deployed across the country—concentrated along Phnom Penh’s busy thoroughfares—stopping and ticketing people for offenses that had previously either gone unnoticed or were dealt with through on-the-spot fines and bribes.
The grumbling began almost immediately, with citizens taking to social media in droves to both mock the law and complain that the costs of compliance were prohibitive and unfair.
Mr. Hun Sen has displayed a whiplash-inducing attitude toward the online complaints. Defending the Land Traffic Law during a speech at the opening of an overpass in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, the premier called on those criticizing the move to be patient and give the law a chance.
But when announcing the license-waive on Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen referenced Facebook messages that had requested he consider how the expense would affect people and announced he would “completely stop requiring the license for driving the motorbike from 125cc down, from now onward.”
Kem Ley, a political analyst and founder of the Khmer for Khmer political advocacy group, said the move was no doubt about securing favorable opinion among the masses.
“I am sure that he understood the reaction of the general public about the enforcement of Land Traffic Law and he worries about his popularity,” Mr. Ley said, adding that while he appreciated the response to public sentiment, there needed to be a better way to deal with such feedback.
“It seems there is no principle, no clear agenda, no clear standard procedure for law enforcement,” he said. “They should have a good complaint mechanism, not just receiving from the Facebook.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan framed Mr. Hun Sen’s decisions as the moves of a leader plugged into the people’s needs.
“The government is created by people so we need to respect what people need,” Mr. Eysan said. “More importantly, since the Prime Minister has been active on Facebook, he learns from people about their suffering so he can solve the matter for the voters.”
Pagna Kim, country director for Asia Injury Prevention Fund, said the move was simply “dangerous,” despite the prime minister’s appeal to all drivers that they still follow the law and drive safely.
“If you don’t require [people] to have a driving license, I don’t believe people will go to learn the new driving law and get skills,” he said.