The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s year-long boycott of parliament slashed the amount of constituent outreach performed by the National Assembly in 2014, and resulted in a vastly diminished voice for the opposition in legislative debate, according to new reports from election watchdog Comfrel.
Comfrel’s investigative report on the National Assembly’s performance in 2014, one of two publications launched by the election watchdog yesterday, concluded that the body was not doing enough to solve Cambodians’ problems.
The report detailed the falling number of field visits to hear constituents’ concerns performed by parliamentarians to illustrate the point, saying that, “The decreased number of field visits resulted from the CNRP’s boycott early in the legislature.”
It said that in the first year of this legislature, 96 parliamentarians from the Cambodian People's Party and CNRP conducted a total of 1,274 field visits – 664 by the CNRP, and 610 by the CPP. By comparison, in the last year of the previous mandate, 108 parliamentarians conducted 2,729 such visits, a drop of more than 53 per cent.
However, CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith expressed doubt over the numbers. “I think there were some loopholes, as some individual lawmakers did not report their field visits,” he said. “Maybe Comfrel did not get all the reports on the field visits.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, meanwhile, said that his party participates in regular constituency visits during the weekends.
The boycott, unsurprisingly, also saw opposition parliamentarians’ participation in legislative debates diminished to a tiny fraction of the total.
Out of 88 total debates on the floor of the Assembly, CNRP politicians participated in only “about four or five”, said Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha.
According to the Comfrel report, only four of the 55 CNRP lawmakers participated in floor discussions. Despite having entered parliament earlier, however, the CPP’s level of participation in debate wasn’t nearly universal. Of 68 ruling party lawmakers, only about a quarter took the floor during debates.
The election watchdog yesterday also released 1,000 copies of the Summary Background of the Fifth Legislature 2013-2015, which provides electoral details on individual parliamentarians from both the ruling and opposition parties.
“The 1,000 copies of the book will contribute to the libraries of universities in Phnom Penh,” senior Comfrel monitor Korn Savang told reporters at a briefing.
Savang said that parliament members from the CPP were not doing enough to provide background information on themselves, while roughly 80 per cent of opposition lawmakers answered the call for clarification. Only two of 68 CPP lawmakers contributed information on their summary background, he noted.
Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said the reports reflect the sluggish state of Cambodian democracy.
“Democracy in Cambodia is still stagnant, and it didn’t improve in 2014,” he said. “The ruling party still controls the [assembly] . . . this has not improved, despite the strong presence of the opposition in parliament.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ETHAN HARFENIST