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Policy forums see little in the way of ruling party participation

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party once again left their chair empty at a policy debate in Phnom Penh yesterday, even as their past achievements were being examined at another forum in the same hotel.

In one room, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) had gathered a host of representatives from minor parties and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to address electoral concerns raised by citizens.

As at most NGO-led policy debates in the lead up to the election, the CPP failed to send a representative.

But this time their coalition partner, Funcinpec, also refused to show.

“We are sorry about the absence of those main parties . . . by not joining it means that they do not value the concerns and suggestions of the citizens,” CCIM head Pa Ngoun Teang said.

Political analyst Kem Ley, who moderated the debate, said although it was too late for the public’s concerns – that included calls for amendments to the national election law and voter registration reform – to be addressed, parties could hear “the voice of the people” at the forum.

“I think that they must come to share their views to debate with the NGO staff, citizen journalists and the public here . . . the CPP and Funcinpec, they must come . . . and take some time to share and to argue whether what has happened is wrong or right,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan said the party was focusing on working.

“It’s time to work, not time to talk anymore. Let the parties that like to talk, talk. But we are, as the CPP, a doer . . . we don’t waste time to sit down and talk . . . we don’t work for our own celebrity but we work for a better life for the people,” he said.

In the absence of the ruling party, National Election Committee representative Keo Phalla was attacked from all sides. Increasingly exasperated, Phalla emphasised that the NEC functions according to tightly-controlled laws laid down by the government.

“When you don’t understand what the law says it’s difficult to have a mature conversation . . . please read more law before you raise any points,” he said, after fielding questions ranging from the voting rights of migrant Cambodian workers to media access for political parties.

“You all know that this is based on the Cambodian constitution and law . . . parliament is the only body that can propose changes to the law . . . the NEC can’t draft any,” he added.

CNRP representative Ou Chanrith said that both the NEC and the government were trying to escape from electoral reform by placing the onus each other.

That point was somewhat underscored by a Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) report released yesterday analysing the government’s policy record since the last election.

Out of 48 total policy pledges made after the last election, only 10 were deemed to have promises tangible enough to evaluate by Comfrel, which found just half of them had been fully implemented during the CPP’s fourth mandate.

Successful polices included raising GDP per capita above $870, reducing the poverty rate by at least one per cent per year and increasing civil servant wages by 20 per cent a year.

Goals that made insufficient progress included mandatory primary school education by 2010 and establishing a social security fund.

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