Phnom Penh City Hall created nine new communes on Thursday by splitting up six of the city’s existing communes in what officials said was a push to better manage crime and provide services to local residents.
But with all of the communes having turned out for the CNRP in the 2013 national election, as well as being the site of some of the fiercest anti-government protesting at polling stations, some are claiming political motivation.
Announced last November, the move will divide Stung Meanchey and Choam Chao into three communes each, and Boeng Tompun, Kakab, Tuol Sangkre and Phnom Penh Thmei each in two. All six communes voted solidly CNRP in the last national election, five by margins of 60 percent or more, according to polling data from Open Development.
Stung Meanchey and Boeng Tompun were sites of violence and some of the most glaring irregularities on voting day, according to a report by Transparency International. In Stung Meanchey, two military police vehicles were overturned and set afire outside of a polling station, while observers in Boeng Tompun were evacuated before polls closed after being “trapped by angry mobs of disenfranchised citizens.”
Government officials insisted on Sunday that the new communes were simply meant to increase security for locals and ease administrative burdens.
“We cannot manage the work. There are too many people that village chiefs don’t know,” said Sot Sath, the CPP commune chief in Choam Chao. “There are a lot of problems like robberies, drug-related activities and fights, and it is very difficult to collect information to make statistics.”
“This is not related to politics or to increase or reduce people’s voices,” said CPP spokesman Sok Eysan. “It is just administration.”
Yet others remained skeptical.
“We still have a lot of questions,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“They gave reasons like population density, but other communes have similarly high densities,” he added. “There could be other reasons, in terms of geography, economy, demography, and so on.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann called the move unnecessary, saying it was a clear—if futile—effort to divide opposition support.
“It is impossible to split the voices even though they are trying to,” he said. “As we already know, in every commune and village, the CNRP gained more votes.”