Plans are afoot to split Kompong Cham, the country’s most populous province, into two separate areas of administration, according to aides of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“It is Samdech Hun Sen’s initiative,” said senior adviser Om Yentieng, explaining that the second prime minister believes the creation of two smaller provinces would make the region easier to govern.
“If the Council of Ministers convenes next week, the issue will be raised,” he said.
Hun Sen’s deputy cabinet director, Muth Khieu, said Hun Sen had King Norodom Sihanouk’s blessing for his plan to divide Kompong Cham along the Mekong River.
The planned split would yield two provinces comprising eight districts each.
The area west of the river, which includes the provincial capital, would retain the name of Kompong Cham, while the easterly sector would take the name of its most populous district, Tbong Khmum.
“Kompong Cham is big so the authorities cannot maintain 100 percent security for the residents,” Muth Khieu said.
Human rights workers agreed that the security situation in Kompong Cham needs improvement, but noted that local authorities and police are among those most frequently associated with the worst human rights abuses.
Human rights workers noted that local authorities are among those most often associated with the worst human rights abuses.
You Hockry, co-Minister of Interior and Funcinpec parliamentarian for Kompong Cham, agreed that the province is unwieldy. “I recognize the province is big. Its administration is not easy because of the complexity of the old resources,” he said. World Bank estimates in 1992 put Kompong Cham’s population at 1.3 million.
You Hockry was unwilling to speculate on any political motives for the proposal, but foresaw difficulties in approving the change at the Council of Ministers. “I think you cannot create a province by subdecree,” he said. “You have to go through the law.”
The last new province to be created was Oddar Meanchey, an embattled region formed from four Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey districts in order to disassociate the Khmer Rouge conflict there from tourist spots farther south. That change was made by decree signed by the prime ministers and the King.
Political analyst Raoul Jennar predicted problems in raising the issue before the formation of a new government. “I don’t think the present government has the right to make this kind of decision in this special time,” he said. “Ministers do not have this power now. It’s a basic principle of the democratic system.”
He also said there appeared to be little immediate political motive for the move, saying the decision comes too late to affect the allocation of seats in the province.
But even a re-allocation would not appear to favor the CPP, given the distribution of the Funcinpec vote. Funcinpec won the province for the second time, gaining victory in 10 of the province’s 16 districts, five in each of the two new proposed provinces.
The change, one analyst said, will decrease the area of the current Kompong Cham governor—Hun Neang, Hun Sen’s brother. “Perhaps the CPP have decided to split the fiefdom in two so that two people can profit. If you created two provinces you get one more governor, and a new provincial administration. It would create new jobs.”
“Somebody may not be happy with the performance of the governor,” the analyst said. “The election result was not so nice for him and inside the party they may have discussed where they did well and not so well.”
But, he said, administratively “it makes sense to cut [the province] in two,” given its size.
“I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into it politically. It is probably a combination of factors.”
Even Hun Neang’s political connections may not be able to protect him from his failure to win the support of most of the people of Kompong Cham.