Several hundred voters from around the country gathered Thursday in Phnom Penh for a forum in which members of the public were invited to ask lawmakers running in July’s national election questions related to human rights, land rights, education and corruption.
But noticeably missing from the forum was a lawmaker from the ruling CPP.
“My question is for the ruling party, but since they’re not here today, I will ask the parties who are here,” said Phav Nheuong, 37, who said her family faces eviction in Sre Ambel district, Koh Kong province.
“How effective is the Prakas 001, which says the student volunteers implement the ‘tiger skin’ policy to measure land for the people? How effective is that if the government does not even implement its own policy?” she asked, referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nationwide land titling program. The representatives of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Funcinpec said that their parties would find a solution to her problem if elected.
Another woman asked CNRP lawmaker Ky Vannara how his party planned to find the money to pay all people over the age of 60 a $10 per month pension, one of seven central policies in the opposition’s campaign. Mr. Vannara provided a lengthy explanation of how the government could raise revenues from taxing casinos and economic land concessions more, as well as cutting down on corruption.
“If we place taxes on petrol and get revenues through tourism, it could be another $450 million for the economy,” he said, explaining that he thought the government was allowing $100 million to go missing through corruption at the Apsara Authority, the body that manages the Angkor Archeological Park. “And that’s not even talking about economic land concessions,” he said.
After a series of comments from Funcinpec lawmaker Koy Sokharith critical of the CPP, an audience member asked him why, if he was so upset with the status quo, he was part of a close alliance with the ruling party. But Mr. Sokharith left the room without answering the question.
While some audience members were delighted to have the opportunity to put their question to the politicians, there was nearly unanimous disappointment at the ruling party’s failure to show up.
“I feel like this is useless because the solutions need to come from the ruling party,” said Chhut Mao, 67, from Battambang province. “It is like we’re fighting without meeting each other. If we have a chance to meet with them, there can be a solution,” she said.
CPP National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun said Thursday that his party’s lawmakers were too busy to attend the event organized by the NGO Forum along with 14 other civil society organizations, and that he thought such a meeting was useless anyhow.
“We are preparing to compete in a democratic election, so we don’t have time,” he said. “This is not a good time for such conferences. I don’t understand what they do this for. Next time, if the topics are useful, we will see if we can go,” he said, adding that a more relevant topic would be how Cambodia is preparing for Asean integration in 2015.