What if you were hanging out at a coffee shop one day and Prime Minister Hun Sen strolled over and asked for your opinion on the anti-corruption law that was before the National Assembly? Would you have anything to say?
Online platforms for citizen involvement in the lawmaking process – such as iLaw, which has given Thai people a chance to discuss legislation over an online platform – do not actually allow people to meet their lawmakers. But they do give citizens a chance to offer input on the legal changes happening in their country.
Ilaw, started in 2009 by Jon Ungpakorn and other Thai social activists, aims to encourage ordinary people’s participation in shaping Thai law (ilaw.or.th). The power of the site is derived from a bill passed in 2007 that allows citizens to propose laws or amendments to the constitution if they have at least 10,000 signatures.
There are three stages to the process: First, iLaw’s members initiate discussion over a certain law; second, the staff at iLaw collect these ideas and condense them into draft legislation; and third, the site collects signatures until there is enough popular support for the bill to be introduced. It is now up to the lawmakers to decide the law’s fate, but just getting it to that point is a victory for iLaw members, who have previously sent draft laws governing international treaties and independent organisations for consumers to parliament.
Regardless of whether the law is passed, iLaw is a valuable mechanism for voter involvement and civic awareness, the site’s manager, Orapin Yingyongpthana, told Lift. He said the site encourages people to know their rights and acts as a system of checks and balances for the country’s legal system. “Ilaw’s community learns together,” he said, adding that this eventually leads to “changing social problems” and “questioning policy”.
So could iLaw work in Cambodia?
Yim Sovann, the spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said that a system similar to iLaw can be a “good way to encourage ordinary people and non-government and civil society groups to participate in how laws are made”.
Cheam Yeap, a parliamentarian for the Cambodian People’s Party, said, however, that policy making should be left to the experts.
“Ordinary people can’t initiate laws because they are not the experts,” he said. “If ordinary people try to [make laws] it will be chaos. If they have problems they can approach their parliamentarians.”
But he added that projects such as iLaw are important for engaging citizens in the lawmaking process.