sihanoukville – Representatives from six political parties and members of civil society on Monday participated here in the Center for Social Development’s fifth and final forum on “Political Platform Debates for the National Election.”
Representatives from the Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec, the Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party, the Khmer Unity Party, the Norodom Chakrapong Proloeung Khmer Party and the Khmer Angkor Party fielded questions from residents of Kampot and Koh Kong provinces and Sihanoukville and Kep municipalities.
The CPP did not send an official—the fourth time the ruling party has declined to attend a Center for Social Development forum.
The ruling party’s absence left some feeling that the debate was lacking.
“I wanted to ask the CPP representative why the government handed over [National Route 4] to a private company to [charge] money from the drivers,” said SiTeav Sarendy, a resident of Sihanoukville.
“I had a lot of questions I also wanted to ask, like why the CPP discriminates against the people who support another party.”
Representatives discussed control of sea resources and fisheries, coastal development, casinos, cross-border crime, social affairs and infrastructure development.
As a member of the coalition government—and because of the absence of the CPP—most of the gibes were directed at Funcinpec Secretary of State for the Ministry of Agriculture May Sam Oeun.
The Funcinpec representative said his party has superior experience to solve the nation’s problems because it has been a member of the last two governments. But May Sam Oeun was quick to note that any Funcinpec government failures were due to CPP undermining their best-laid plans.
In response to a question from a Kampot resident regarding the failures of the previous administration, May Sam Oeun replied that “in [Funcinpec’s] first mandate in 1993, there were two premiers. Funcinpec was responsible for policy at that time, but in July 1997 we ran out of time.”
He was referring to the factional fighting that stripped then-first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh of his post.
“You should vote for Funcinpec. Now the government will be Funcinpec alone, not co-prime ministers,” he said.
The audience responded with laughter, but they grumbled when May Sam Oeun answered a question about protecting coastal integrity for fishermen by pointing to Funcinpec initiatives on the Tonle Sap lake.
For Sam Rainsy Party representative Chum Sarith, the answer to all of the country’s ills seemed to come down to corruption.
Lost to graft each year, he said, is some $400 million. If corruption is tackled, then salaries of government and civil servants will increase, health care will be improved and judicial reform will be achieved, he said.
The discussion became heated only when the representatives all said that if they were elected and didn’t deliver on campaign promises, they would resign from their posts.
All, that is, except Funcinpec’s May Sam Oeun.
“When the prince was first prime minister and when he was No 2 [in the coalition government], he didn’t have enough power, but we have built a culture of democracy…. If we win alone, if the voters see that we have no ability and don’t enforce our promises, they can stop voting for Funcinpec,” May Sam Oeun said.
All party representatives said they would work through diplomatic, nonviolent channels to re-acquire the territory lost to Vietnam in 1949.
Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath said the CPP’s “lack of presence shows a lack of commitment…and is a reflection of the commitment of the party.”
But she said she believes the CPP sends representatives to the forums to listen, “because they know the importance of the forums.”