A rare public discussion and debate on political party policy before the upcoming election took place yesterday in Phnom Penh, though one key player was missing – the ruling party itself.
Organised by a coalition of 14 NGOs, the forum featured Funcinpec and Cambodia National Rescue Party representatives discussing key electoral issues and taking questions from an open field of attendees.
In the absence of a Cambodian People’s Party figure who could participate in the debate, however, the party representatives used the event to flog similar populist solutions to issues stretching from land concessions to declining social morality and income tax.
“Will you be the masters of the people or will you allow the people to be the masters of the nation?” asked one passionate Oddar Meanchey villager.
Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said organisers had only invited parties that hold seats in the National Assembly, and despite many invitations, the CPP failed to turn up.
“We think that [it] is important . . . to have more debates like this and . . . to inform Cambodian citizens to make the right decision about which political party they vote for,” he said.
Many attendees, such as 45-year-old Chen Rotha, publicly lamented the CPP’s failure to attend. “I am very disappointed that they did not come. I’m desperate to meet with them because I have many specific issues to discuss,” she said.
“People from all parts of society are keen to speak to the CPP . . . If [they] came here today, it would have been a very fruitful discussion,” Sam Ath said.
Despite being heavy on rhetoric, representatives from the two attending parties sought to present a vision for elected government.
The CNRP’s Ky Vandara touted polices that would increase wages paid to civil servants, give handouts to the elderly, set a price-floor for rice and reduce the cost of fuel, in addition to a plan to reduce reliance on foreign debt by streamlining bureaucracy and targeting corruption in the Kingdom.
Funcinpec’s representative promised to strip away economic land concessions and establish a social security fund.