Concerns Raised Over New Commune Law

A new commune administration draft law has aroused concerns among government watchdogs who say the law, which is meant to invest more power in lo­cal government, doesn’t go far enough.

According to the new draft, which was taken up for debate Thurs­day by an interministerial com­mittee, communes will be elec­ted by a preferential party vote, instead of a direct vote for in­dependent candidates, which el­ection watchdogs and NGOs say they prefer.

In addition, communes will re­main under the sole authority of the Ministry of the Interior, a move critics say will reinforce the power of the central government.

“I think [the government] talks about decentralization, but it’s not really decentralization,” said Thun Saray, first representative of the Committee For Free and Fair Elections. “They take back control by taking control of the com­munal administration.”

Critics said the existing prefer­en­tial system allows a single par­ty to assert control over communes, even with only a slender ma­jority. At present, the CPP holds power in virtually all communes.

“[Commune officials’] obligations will be to the party, but not to their constituencies,” Yeng Virak, deputy representative at NGO Forum said Thursday.

He added that the current draft does not have adequate measures to ensure officials’ accountability and the transparency of their activities.

Thun Saray said he fears that party-based elections at the local- government level will be divisive.

“I worry that the people will have more conflict among themselves…at the grass-roots level,” he said. “They will in­tim­idate, harass or kill each other.”

He said that candidates who stand as individuals would be better known to voters and better equipped to serve their interests.

However, Sum Manit (CPP), secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said it’s conventional for political parties to be involved in local elections in democratic societies. He added that local, independent candidates may not be qualified for the job.

“There are people who are ver­y popular in the village, but we don’t know if they are competent or if they have enough education,” he said Wednesday. He de­clined to comment further on the draft.

The watchdog groups said they have not been adequately con­sulted over the draft, which is set to go before the Council of Ministers next week, an Interior Ministry source said.

By early Thursday, neither NGO forum nor the three election watchdog groups had re­ceiv­ed a copy of the draft. A copy was obtained by the Cambodia Daily.

Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An said Wednes­day evening he had not yet seen a list of concerns about the draft sent to him by NGO Forum 10 November, 1999, and again on Wednesday. He declined to comment further on the draft.


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