The ruling CPP has begun filling some of its posts in the newly created provincial and municipal councils that resulted from last month’s local election, with the newly empowered officials serving as governors and deputy governors in their respective provinces and cities, officials said this week.
In a ceremony on Saturday, three Phnom Penh deputy governors were transferred to the new municipal council, according to Map Sarin, one of the three former deputy governors and now the chairman of the capital city’s municipal council.
Provincial councils have seen similar changes.
In Ratanakkiri on Monday, the province’s governor and two dep-
uty governors were transferred to the provincial council, an official said. And in Pursat on Tuesday, the governor and two deputy governors were also moved to the provincial council, while in Kan-
dal on the same day, two deputy governors were given seats in the provincial council, according to officials from the three provinces.
In all three councils, a former CPP governor or deputy governor was appointed chairman of the new authority.
Chay Sareth, governor of Pursat province until Monday and now provincial council chairman the province, said that giving existing governors and deputy governors seats on the new councils is a way “to share power and apply the democratic way.”
“It will especially help because former governors and deputy governors elected to the new council know the task of the board of governors,” he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, agreed that experience could help the new councilors, but that didn’t mean the new provincial and district councilors-the vast majority of which come from the CPP-will be effective.
The councilors, who are selected from a party list, may have little incentive to oppose the party line, he said.
“They cannot be really independent because [their] political party can dismiss them,” he said.
“If they lose the membership of the political party, they can dismiss them. It’s not like…some countries [where] if you elect an official, [that official] must stay in [their] position for a full term.”
The new district, municipal and provincial councils were created in an indirect election on May 17, part of an effort, according to the government, to increase local power, and “decentralize” government.
Government officials have said the councils will strengthen local democracy, but some observers are skeptical, saying that the new councils, which are supposed to oversee the board of governors and deputy governors in every municipality, province and district, may not have the power-or willpower-to do so.
Making current governors and deputy governors of provinces the new heads of the provincial councils would also appear to mark a continuation of the current power and decision-making structure.
Provincial officials this week said the recent transfers of governors and deputy governors to the councils are “promotions,” because the new positions are more powerful.
Before the council elections, however, some observers pointed to the relationship between the councils and board of governors as an area of uncertainty.
For example, a committee created by the so-called “organic law” that also created the councils is still in the process of deciding what responsibilities will actually be handed to the councils.
Mr Panha, of Comfrel, on Tuesday said it is too early to say how powerful the councils will be.
“We have to observe and watch their performance,” he said.
The organic law, which was passed last year, also limits the size of the provincial and municipal board of governors, which is comprised of one governor and deputy governors. A maximum of seven officials are allowed in Phnom Penh municipality and the provinces, and five at the district level.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said on Monday that the “government is adjusting the number of governors according to the law.” In the past, he noted, some provincial authorities had as many as 10 officials on their boards of governors.
In Phnom Penh, deputy governor Map Sarin is the city’s newly appointed council chairman, while deputy governors Chup Khon and Chea Sothun are now both council members, according to a royal decree dated Friday. Mr Sarin confirmed the swearing-in ceremony took place on Saturday, but declined to comment further.
In Ratanakkiri province on Monday, Governor Muong Puoy and deputy governors Chey Sayoeun and Bou Lam were transferred from their posts and sworn in as provincial council members, with Mr Puoy as chairman, according to Mr Saroeun.
A similar ceremony was held for Pursat provincial Governor Chay Sareth, who was appointed chairman of the provincial council. Mr Sareth said he could not remember the names of the deputy governors who will be joining him on the council.
In Kandal province, deputy governor Mao Phirun was made provincial council chairman, and deputy governor Cheavy Tay was made a council member, Mr Phirun confirmed.