sambo commune, Kompong Thom province – Hoeurn Chhean, 61, tumbled off a motorcycle six weeks before the commune elections and woke up with amnesia. But he remained at the top of the CPP candidate list.
Now a commune chief, he sits in his home in this commune about 40 km from the provincial capital, with a scar over his eye and a bewildered look on his face.
Life for Hoeurn Chhean has progressed very little since his accident. And since the elections that put him in charge, life in Sambo commune hasn’t progressed much either.
No one thought February’s commune elections would transform Cambodia overnight. But there is clearly a long road ahead for poor and remote communes like Sambo.
The centerpiece of Sambo is the towering 7th century ruins of Prey Koub, which attract busloads of tourists on the way to Siem Reap province. It is San Ath’s job to hack away at the undergrowth and thick vines that constantly threaten to engulf the more than 100 small temples.
“I work in exchange for rice,” said San Ath, who earns 50 kg of rice and some oil and sardines for a month’s labor. He works one month a year in a food-for-work program.
A landless laborer, San Ath earns about $100 planting rice for others the rest of the year. He gets a few handouts, but he is still in debt—30,000 riel (about $7.50)—and cannot make ends meet.
Little has changed since the February elections, San Ath said. “The poor are still poor.”
Nay Nath, 27, said the road through his village has been fixed since the election. But he is still pessimistic that real change will come any time soon. After the 2000 flood, he said, his village chief hoarded donations for his family and political allies.
Little has changed at the commune level. Hoeurn Chhean, 61, is still struggling to recover his memory; he speaks slowly and softly. The second deputy commune chief, a Sam Rainsy Party member, is also disabled. He fell from the house of the first deputy commune chief the day before the election, during a visit to talk politics.
That leaves Chhoun Sykhorn, 52, the first deputy commune chief and a Funcinpec member. Chhoun Sykhorn says the new council has met only once, when they discussed commune regulations. He said the chief has not given him the right to convene a second meeting, though Hoeurn Chhean insisted in a separate interview that he had.
The commune would like to build dikes, canals and roads, he said. But it hasn’t set priorities for development yet.
“This is a tattered commune,” Chhoun Sykhorn said.