PHNOM PENH - With the national elections just a month away, representatives from major political parties excluding the ruling Cambodian People’s Party promise to ensure the approval of the long-awaited Freedom of Information Law if elected.
The law would allow for better public access to government records, including for journalists and policymakers. Proponents say it would spur greater transparency in the government, particularly in the extractive industries, which remain part of a lucrative, though secretive, sector. A draft version of the law has been stalled since 2007.
“We are committed to making it happen,” said Ky Vandara, a representative of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. The party is making the passage of such a law a priority if it wins the July 28 elections, he said. “If we cannot do it, we will step down, because why should we stay and lead the country if we can’t even pass a law that would be vital to our people and our nation?”
Ky Vandara and other candidates for the elections spoke at a recent political forum, where they were able to meet with potential voters.
“The law is key for citizens,” said Tep Nunry, a candidate for the royalist Funcinpec. “We will push for its approval. If we cannot do it, we would rather quit our positions in the new mandate.”
The Rescue Party, Funcinpec and five other smaller parties are all vying for votes in the upcoming election, along with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which secured 90 of 123 National Assembly seats in the 2008 election.
Under the CPP-dominated Assembly, the Freedom of Information Law was rejected twice, in 2010 and 2012, without debate.
Men Sam An, who is minister of the National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection Ministry, said the law is being worked on. She declined to tell reporters recently whether it will be passed in the next government mandate.
“Let the experts answer the question,” she said.
Government critics say the law could have been passed easily in a recent National Assembly session. Instead, CPP lawmakers hurriedly approved a law criminalizing the denial of Khmer Rouge crimes, an apparent attack on the Rescue Party’s vice president, Kem Sokha, who was accused of denying atrocities at the Tuol Sleng prison of the regime. That law took less than two weeks to be drafted and passed—proof, critics say, that the Assembly can pass legislation when it wants to.
“This leaves us with a question mark,” said Preap Kol, head of Transparency International Cambodia. “Is it because [lawmakers] did not give priority to the FOI law? Or do they think the existence of the law will affect the affairs of state? I will leave the answer to the people.”
Chhit Sam Ath, head of NGO Forum, said the Freedom of Information Law could serve as a starting point for voters.
“If the people think the FOI law is important, then it can affect their decision to give their votes, when a political party doesn’t pledge to pass the law,” he said.