Prime Minister Hun Sen asked government officials Wednesday to be ready to share power with the new district, provincial and municipal councilors following the first-ever elections for the posts in May.
Addressing a crowd of provincial governors, deputy governors and ministers during a conference in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen called on the audience to work with the soon-to-be elected officials, who will act as local legislatures drawing up action plans and recommendations for district and provincial governors.
“You must be ready, whether you want to or not, you must implement the organic law that we have approved in order to promote decentralization and de-concentration,” he said. “Some power we must give them, complete power, and we will monitor above them,” he added.
Hun Sen said working toward decentralization would boost the Cambodian economy by providing extra governmental support at the lowest level.
“We want to have economic growth, more competitiveness and better public service and to reduce poverty,” he said.
The organic law, approved by the National Assembly in April 2008, created the new layers of local administration and stipulates that commune councilors will elect the new councilors. The National Election Commission plans to spend $1.5 million to hold the “indirect” elections on May 17.
During his speech the Prime Minister also warned his followers to be ready if elected councilors from opposition parties try to remove provincial or deputy governors, who will continue to be appointed by the Interior Ministry, for politically motivated reasons.
“They will oppose, please be ready, they will oppose you,” Hun Sen said. “They will oppose regardless of whether we have done right or wrong.”
SRP President Sam Rainsy said he doubted the new councils would bring about any decentralization but instead would remain politically weak and under-funded, much like the existing commune councils.
“There is no autonomous financial support for the commune councilors,” he said by telephone. “This is a fake decentralization,” he said, adding “power will remain in one individual and those behind him.”
Koul Panha, director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, reiterated the organization’s stance of boycotting the May elections since the majority of the country’s commune councils, which are the only people allowed to vote, are dominated by Hun Sen’s CPP. The CPP holds 7,993 commune seats, with the SRP a distant second at 2,660.
“This election is a waste of money. We know the election result already,” he said. “If we take a glance it seems it is a democratic process, but the parties can still control the councils,” he added.
Hun Sen, during his Wednesday speech, also responded to Sam Rainsy’s call earlier this week for a government stimulus package, saying more than $500 million has already been committed.
“We have already done it,” Hun Sen told the audience, but offered no details.