Commune councilors have begun a trial voting program for new village chiefs, marking the first time that village leaders have been chosen by an elected body rather than by government appointment.
Although Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec village chiefs were elected in a few villages, observers said that the CPP majorities in rural commune councils virtually guarantees CPP domination when the process goes national in June.
Four commune councils located in Phnom Penh and Kompong Speu, Takeo and Kandal provinces selected a total of 28 village chiefs, officials said Wednesday.
CPP candidates won 22 positions, Funcinpec took four and SRP village chiefs numbered only two, both in Phnom Penh.
The CPP even swept seven villages in Takeo province’s Kompong Reap commune, despite the fact that Funcinpec had the majority vote in the commune council with three councilors compared to the CPP’s two, Prey Kabas district governor Pou Vanthorn said.
“The CPP’s candidates are good. That’s why Funcinpec’s councilors support them,” said Pou Vanthorn, a CPP member.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay said Funcinpec commune councilors must communicate better before the nationwide vote.
“I hope the results won’t be like the pilot election [in Takeo],” he added.
Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district Boeng Tumpon commune council gave two village chief positions each to CPP and SRP candidates and one to Funcinpec, said SRP commune councilor Bin San.
Commune councilors from elsewhere in Phnom Penh predicted bitter fights in evenly split councils, such as Tuol Kok district’s Tuk La’ak II, where the CPP and SRP have four councilors each and Funcinpec holds the crucial swing vote.
Kompong Speu’s Baset district Pheary Meanchey commune council gave 10 villages to the CPP and three to Funcinpec, according to SRP lawmaker Nuth Runduol.
In Kandal province’s Kien Svay district’s Kompong Svay commune, where the only SRP councilor boycotted the election, the CPP won all three villages, according to SRP lawmaker Chan Cheng.
Leng Vy, director of the Interior Ministry’s local administration department, said a village chief selection training program will begin nationwide on May 16 and commune councils will set their own schedule for voting during June.
The Interior Ministry order outlining the process, which is designed to favor female candidates, resulted in two women being chosen as village chiefs among the first 28, Leng Vy added.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections Director Koul Panha predicted that the CPP could take up to 95 percent of the more than 13,000 village chief positions. “It’s just a show of legitimacy,” he said, adding that the councils are party-controlled.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy called for popular elections at the village level but said he hoped to get more village chief positions than Koul Panha projected.
Sam Rainsy added that village chiefs are extremely powerful at the grassroots level. “[The village chief] is part of the chain of command of the CPP, and the person that villagers see the most,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak reiterated the government position that village chiefs have no real power.
“They are just the aides of the commune council,” Khieu Sopheak said, adding that elections could not be predicted because councilors of any party could make their own choices.
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