Prime Minister Hun Sen has fast developed a penchant for conducting political business via Facebook since he formally joined the social networking site in September.
Now he is making that official, issuing a new directive on Monday instructing every government minister to form a working group for tracking citizens’ grievances and requests that they post to his Facebook page.
The working groups must forward daily reports about Facebook complaints directly to the relevant minister’s office, and those issues must be resolved, Mr. Hun Sen ordered.
“In order to know people’s requests in a timely fashion, please, samdechs, his excellencies and her excellencies, assign working groups to track down and make daily reports on any requests from the people that have been sent to the prime minister’s web page, then respond and solve them for people in a timely fashion,” the directive said.
He called the new Facebook initiative “an important affair” that required all of the country’s ministers and provincial leaders to “pay attention” to the social networking site.
On Friday, Mr. Hun Sen told an audience of graduating students that he received mountains of complaints from people on his Facebook page, and was having trouble keeping up.
“Do not underestimate the issue,” he warned government officials. “Any issue that affects the people’s interests is not a small issue.”
He singled out Health Minister Mam Bun Heng for praise, recounting how Mr. Bun Heng had noticed a Facebook complaint about the fee for the entrance examination for the University of Health Sciences and immediately informed the prime minister. Mr. Hun Sen then announced on the spot that the price for the test would be reduced from about $125 to about $25.
The push to monitor Facebook appears to be part of a broader effort to bolster the CPP’s popularity in advance of critical commune elections in 2017. The ruling party was surprised at the 2013 national election by an insurgent CNRP that harnessed the power of social media and took advantage of widespread discontent with corruption and a lack of transparency in the government.
Kem Ley, an analyst who helped found the Khmer for Khmer political network, said that although being responsive to people’s concerns was a good start, the government needed to embark on more fundamental institutional reforms before it could count on success at the ballot box.
“It’s better than ignoring people’s opinions,” he said. “But…the best way to gain popularity is to conduct in-depth reform of various institutions.”