Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday warned an unnamed political party not to hold popular elections for village chiefs, saying that doing so would violate the law and be tantamount to “secession.”
The Sam Rainsy Party last week called on commune councils, in communes now controlled by the SRP, to organize new popular elections for villagers chiefs.
Village chiefs, nearly all of whom belong to the ruling CPP, were appointed by the mostly CPP-controlled commune councils in 2006.
In this year’s commune elections on April 1, the SRP won commune chief positions in 28 of the country’s 1,621 communes, with the CPP taking 1,591 and Funcinpec winning just two.
“I heard that people want to hold an election to elect village chiefs. Do you want to have secession?” Hun Sen said in a speech delivered during an inauguration ceremony Monday morning in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district. “You are creating autonomous zones. It is impossible. The law cannot be abused, if you abuse the law, there is no choice but to solve it,” he continued.
Leng Vy, director of the Department of Local Administration at the Interior Ministry, said that village chiefs, who serve an indefinite mandate, have already been elected. “By law the Sam Rainsy Party can not hold village chief elections,” he said.
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said that the prime minister and the Interior Ministry have jumped to conclusions without actually listening to the SRP’s proposal.
The SRP has no intention of organizing elections, but is advocating for all commune councils—which under the law have the responsibility of electing village chiefs—to organize popular elections at the village level, Mu Sochua said.
“Neither the CPP, nor the SRP, nor any party has the right to hold an election…. The SRP does not intend to hold an election,” she added.
Mar Sophal, monitoring coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that it is not against the law for commune councils to organize new village chief elections. NGOs as well as Comfrel have been pushing for village chief elections by the people for some time, he said.
“The Ministry of Interior should revise the instructions for the election of village chiefs,” he added.
CPP Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that CPP commune councilors, who far outnumber councilors from any other party, will oppose the idea of new village chief elections.