The National Assembly on Tuesday approved changes to the Constitution’s articles 145 and 146, opening the door to reorganize administrative boundaries and establish the organic law, which would create new elected bodies at provincial, municipal and district levels.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng told the National Assembly that Battambang, Siem Reap and Poipet towns would all be re-designated as “cities” and run directly under their respective provincial governments in the interest of providing services to their burgeoning urban populations.
He added that the municipalities of Pailin, Kep and Sihanoukville would become provinces, leaving Phnom Penh as the only remaining municipality because of its unique level of development.
The new provinces have not yet been re-named, but Sar Kheng suggested that Sihanoukville might return to its previous name of Kompong Som, but he said that the urban center would likely remain Sihanoukville City.
“This is an important stage of infrastructure reform to transfer power to the grassroots,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said to reporters after the Assembly voted to approve the amendments. Hun Sen had previously said that the reorganization was necessary to prepare for creation of new local councils detailed in the draft organic law.
“Democracy will be improved. There will be elections regardless of any formulas in order to establish [elected] councils for the provinces, municipalities, cities [and] districts,” Hun Sen added.
Out of 107 lawmakers present for the vote, 88 voted in favor of the constitutional amendments. Eighteen SRP lawmakers abstained from the vote, citing reservations about the administrative reforms and CPP unwillingness to discuss the amendments.
“In order to repair a house, people in the house should have a discussion,” SRP President Sam Rainsy said during the Assembly’s debate. He added that indirect elections to councilor positions proposed in the draft organic law were undemocratic because only commune councilors, a vast majority of whom are CPP members, could vote, replicating the selection process for senators and village chiefs.
“We know the result already: There is only the CPP and the SRP. Funcinpec and Norodom Ranariddh Party will be zero,” Sam Rainsy said. “I want to provide chances to people from all political parties.”
“Eighty percent of the new positions will be given to the CPP,” he added later by telephone.
Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphan also criticized the amendments, saying that the draft organic law, which will be debated at a later date, fails to clearly detail the new councils’ election process. “People want to have direct elections,” he added.
Sar Kheng defended the changes, adding that the organic law was a separate issue.
Commune councilors, he said, would be free to vote their conscience in choosing the new local officials regardless of political affiliation, noting that some Funcinpec commune councilors had voted for CPP senators.