Gov’t Urged to Replace Village Chiefs Faster

Election watchdogs pressed the government to replace en­trenched, allegedly CPP-linked village chiefs and decried what they say is a paltry representation by women in the July 27 general elections.

In a document signed Tuesday, about a dozen election monitoring groups and leaders of opposition parties urged the Ministry of In­terior to speed up change among the country’s village chiefs before the elections. Monitoring groups say village chiefs instigate much of the vote-buying and intimidation that has marred past elections.

According to a report issued Wednesday by the Thailand-based Asian Network for Free Elections, village chiefs have mistreated supporters of opposition parties in myriad ways this year.

In Banteay Meanchey prov­ince, a village chief barred villagers from access to a well, and a village chief in Kandal province re­corded the names of villagers attending an opposition rally, the report stated.

But Sak Setha, director general of administration of the Ministry of Interior, called the village chiefs’ role “a small position” and said there remained legal uncertainty about how they would be replaced, in any case.

“There is no procedure wheth­er we will choose those village chiefs by election or [allow them to be] appointed by the authorities,” he said. “To select the village chiefs before the election is impossible.”

A vague decentralization law allows commune councils to in­stall new village chiefs, but it is rarely invoked. Critics say the Ministry of Interior has failed to specify how the process should work. As a result, about 90 percent of the country’s village chiefs “were appointed by the ruling party a long time ago,” said Koul Pan­ha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

“They are very important for informing the villagers about the elections. They are close to the villagers,” he said.

Also Wednesday, the National Election Committee announced a list of candidates in 24 provinces and towns. The list was broadcast on state-run television and radio and is posted on the committee’s Web site. Eleven percent of the candidates are women, an in­crease from the 9 percent logged in the 1998 elections, said Thun Saray, chairman of Comfrel.

Still, “there should be more women involved in politics today, because the number of educated women in college currently is more,” he said. CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party each have 14 female candidates.

Meanwhile, the government has awarded Ly Vanhong printing house the task of printing more than 7.5 million ballots at the cost of at least $700,000, NEC officials said Wednesday.

The printing began June 15 and should take about 35 days, said NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha. Ly Vanhong, located in Toul Kok district, was selected from among six printing houses that bid for the contract, he said.

(Ad­ditional reporting by Thet Sam­bath)

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