Prime Minister Hun Sen this week redrew the map of Cambodia, officially changing three municipalities into provinces and adding another district to Phnom Penh, according to a copy of a sub-decree obtained Thursday.
The former Kep and Pailin municipalities are now provinces, while Sihanoukville municipality is now Preah Sihanouk province, bringing the total number of provinces in Cambodia to 23, according to the sub-decree dated Monday.
An eighth Phnom Penh district, named Sen Sok, has also been formed from crowded Russei Keo district’s Phnom Penh Thmei, Toek Thla and Khmuonh communes, which have a combined population of 100,000 people.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong denied on Thursday that Sen Sok district, meaning “very peaceful,” had in fact been named in honor of Hun Sen, after whom numerous schools, racing boats and public places are named.
“The Khmer like these words,” he said.
Monday’s executive order also fixed the number of councilors in each of the country’s 183 districts at between 15 and 19, and between nine and 21 for each of the provinces and Phnom Penh, with the number varying according to population.
The new councilors are to be elected in May by the 11,353 commune councilors, who were themselves elected by popular vote in 2007.
Leng Vy, director-general of local administration at the Interior Ministry, said Thursday that the new civic structure is meant to conform to the so-called Organic Law, adopted by the National Assembly in April.
Touted as a centerpiece of the government’s plans for reform and decentralization, the law delegates functions of the central government to the new local councils to improve the delivery of services and promote local democracy.
It has been denounced by opposition members as an attempt to consolidate the ruling party’s power, and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections has announced plans to boycott the new council elections, which it says will be meaningless.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said Thursday that Monday’s changes and the election would be costly distractions from more urgent matters such as the stymied draft anticorruption law.