They can’t talk in the National Assembly, and they can’t talk in the provinces – at least at the parliamentarian level – but a new round of local dialogues held by the National Democratic Institute will see the ruling party and the opposition face off via their commune-level counterparts this December.
Since 2004, NDI has arranged town-hall style meetings where members of parliament take questions from the public. This year, the format will be changed to accommodate the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s ongoing boycott of the National Assembly.
The dialogues aim to create transparency and communication between constituents and representatives, with NDI facilitating the discussion and following up on any promises made and solutions delivered.
But with CNRP parliamentarians lacking the ability to effect political change in the government without taking their seats, the next series of 22 dialogues will host representatives from the commune council rather than members of parliament.
“We could still talk on the issues, but we cannot work on them in parliament, as we are not sworn in,” Ou Chanrith, a CNRP lawmaker-elect who participated in dialogues for the past five years, said.
The intent of the dialogues remains the same, however.
“[The dialogues] allow citizens to hold their elected representatives to account and demand for the delivery of their interests,” Laura Thornton, senior resident director of NDI in Cambodia, said. “With different elected officials present, [the dialogues] will be different, the issues raised will likely be different, probably more local, and the … commune council will probably be more able to deliver at that level.”
But as a recently formed party that did not exist during the last commune-level elections, the meetings will require a level of creativity for the CNRP.
“The CNRP does not have local representatives,” party spokesman Yim Sovann said. He added that one representative would be sent from the Sam Rainsy Party, and one from the Human Rights Party.
CPP spokesmen would not confirm involvement in the dialogues, but NDI said party officials have already agreed to take part.
“For the first couple years, the CPP did not participate,” Thornton said, adding that while other organisations have attempted to facilitate multiparty dialogues, only NDI has had success at getting both the ruling party and the opposition to agree to public talks.
As in past years, the upcoming forums will also reach listeners across the country through radio broadcasts.
“[The dialogues] have shown to have statistically significant impact on the political awareness of citizens,” Thornton said. “In the beginning, questions were often quite tame, but in the last couple years, citizens have been remarkably vocal about their grievances and not afraid to name names and point fingers. The demand for change and action has become clear.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG