Phnom Penh’s 5 New Districts Create Fears of Gerrymandering

Phnom Penh City Hall’s plans to undertake the largest redrawing of the city’s administrative boundaries in decades, by creating five new districts before May’s district and city-level council elections, is likely an effort to gerrymander voting constituencies, a senior opposition party member said Monday.

Municipal government spokesman Long Dimanche said on Sunday that City Hall would create five new districts before the council elections by either partitioning or redrawing the boundaries of the city’s existing nine districts.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said that redrawing the city’s districts before the elections could see new boundaries drawn around Phnom Penh’s 96 communes to secure the ruling CPP more council positions than it would win now if the nine district borders remained intact.

“They know the numbers for the coming district and provincial elections based on the commune councilors, so this isn’t for administration, it’s for political gain—for gaining more members on the district councils,” Mr. Chhay said.

Phnom Penh’s 810 commune councilors will turn out on May 18 to vote in elections for the councils of the districts in which they are located, as well as in an overall election for the Phnom Penh municipal council.

An overall victory for the CPP in the council elections is likely, with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party holding 570 of the 810 city councilor positions following the July 2012 commune elections.

Political analyst Kem Ley dismissed suggestions from the government that redrawing Phnom Penh’s districts, which had two new districts added in recent years to the original seven, was to increase administrative efficiency, adding that the new “political arrangement” would ensure the CPP maximizes its votes.

“They will arrange the sangkats [communes] the CPP won, and those the CNRP won, and arrange them accordingly in order to vote in more khan [district] councilors for the CPP,” Mr. Ley said.

Sak Setha, the Ministry of Interior’s secretary of state in charge of decentralization, denied the redrawing of the borders had any political motive, saying that such a move was normal ahead of an election.

“Before local elections, we normally review the boundaries and if possible—if we need to change the boundaries or so on—we create new administrations to improve the provision of public service,” he said.

National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha declined to comment on the redistricting until more details are announced.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)

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