Village Chiefs To Be Chosen by Quota System

The upcoming nationwide selection of new village chiefs will proceed by appointments through a bi-partisan quota system and not by popular elections, Interior Ministry of­ficials said on Monday.

The selection process will likely be finalized at a joint CPP and Fun­cinpec meeting headed by Co-Min­is­ters of Interior Sar Kheng and Prince Norodom Sirivudh this week, according to correspondence be­tween the co-ministers obtained on Monday.

According to the letters, Prince Sirivudh suggested an initial meeting on Wednesday and a final discussion on Friday.

“Village chiefs should be chosen, have taken office and changed by the end of 2005,” Prince Sirivudh re­minded Sar Kheng in the letter, citing the 73-point agreement be­tween CPP and Funcinpec which ended the yearlong deadlock following the 2003 national election.

Interior Ministry Secretary of State Kung Hun Thearith said he had not seen Sar Kheng’s response but was optimistic that the meeting would proceed, despite Sar Kheng’s suggestion, in a prior letter, that the selection procedure for the new village chiefs be drafted in advance of any meeting.

Kung Hun Thearith said that it had already been decided that the village chiefs would be politically appointed, with fixed percentages allocated to CPP and Funcinpec.

Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that Interior Min­istry officials had decided in the last few days to install pro-CPP chiefs in 70 percent of villages, with pro-Fun­cinpec village chiefs in the remaining 30 percent.

“The CPP and Funcinpec will distribute the quota 70 and 30 for CPP and Funcinpec village chiefs,” he said, citing unofficial information from a top Funcinpec source.

“The commune council members will select the village chiefs and inform the Ministry of In­ter­ior,” he said.

Hang Puthea complained that the appointments will be a strike against democracy and a way to pre­vent opposition parties from gain­ing grassroots-level footholds in the country’s villages.

Village-level elections are crucial to decentralization and are the best way to serve the interests of the people, said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elect­ions in Cambodia.

“Most of the village chiefs are appointed by CPP, and they have served a long time—more than 20 years, some of them. We need to make sure that the village chief belongs to the people, not just to the po­litical parties,” Koul Panha said. “Appointing them is not a good way to improve decentralization…. It is not good for the local democracy.”

Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said that the quota would serve only the ruling parties, not the constituents.

“I think they are hesitant to [elect] new village chiefs because they know that this is the power base of the ruling party,” Yim Sovann said.

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