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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP commune chiefs join fray against slogan

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Opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks at an extraordinary party congress to confirm new party leadership last week at the Party headquarters in Phnom Penh Pha Lina

CPP commune chiefs join fray against slogan

Some two dozen ruling party commune chiefs have released statements condemning the opposition party’s new campaign slogan, saying it belittled their “heroic efforts” to serve their communities.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party’s catchphrase, which calls on voters to replace commune chiefs who “serve the party” with those who “serve the people”, has riled the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which has threatened legal action for “incitement”.

As of yesterday afternoon, pro-government outlet Fresh News had released letters by 24 CPP commune chiefs slamming the slogan, which CNRP officials say they have no plans to change.

Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan claimed the effort by local officials was a grassroots phenomenon, though their four-point statements were nearly identical but for the section where the chiefs describe their achievements, which range from buildings roads and schools to signing “more than one thousand family books”.

“The statement saying the commune council serves the party seriously looks down on the heroic effort of commune chiefs to serve the people,” each letter reads before repeating the words “incites” and “causes division in society”.

A local official since 1979, Mao Sophon, chief of Kraing Pongro commune in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, said he released the statement of his own volition and had encouraged his local CPP counterparts to follow suit.

“We work at the commune hall, not at the party. This looks down on the people so much.”

Also touchy about the catchphrase, Yeav Lay, Kampong Samnanh commune chief in Kandal’s Takhmao town, demanded it be changed. “I build roads for the people and sometimes spent my own money.”

Meanwhile yesterday, the CPP governor of Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, Ek Khun Doeun, said the party was considering a request from Boeung Kak I deputy commune chief Ly Sokun to join their party, after quitting the opposition Sam Rainsy Party this week.

Sokun, imprisoned in February for alleged forgery related to giving an election observer the wrong identification card, complained about the commune candidate selection process in explaining his resignation.

But Meng Sopheary, a lawyer appointed by the CNRP to defend Sokun, said the decision appeared to be a bid for freedom. “He told me that his son was trying to get help to get him out of jail,” she said.

The son of another opposition commune chief from Poipet, Chao Veasna, who was also imprisoned last month over a 2015 protest, said his father had been approached with an offer.

“He told me that someone came to persuade him to leave the party,” Soeng Sophoen said. “[They said] that he can leave the prison whenever he wants, but he held his position.”

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Don Rennie's picture

Dear Chheng,

Calling on all voters to elect someone who "serves the people" is a cornerstone of democracy. This is not incitement. It is a call for representation amonst the people.

The CPP does not serve the people and the PM incites the voters with talk of a "color revolution" and crackdowns on public assembly.

Shame on the CPP to offer a reduction in prison time in exchange for an imprisoned commune chief to change his political party from CNRP to CPP.

The CPP continues to be weak. It continues to play a losing game and lacks the leadership skill that the Khmer people want.

The CPP fails to serve the Khmer voters on many different levels.

DR

John Lowrie's picture

With local elections pending, it is worth reminding everyone of the original aims, for which so much money has been spent. The Commune Councils were supposed to be new independent local authorities, ones that could in due course take over functions now led by centralised ministries. The Councils were supposed to be corporately-run, by the elected Councillors collectively, with local communities. The truth is they have followed the Cambodian authoritarian default. Most power has rested solely with the Chiefs, and like the CPP party-appointed Village Chiefs, few really do understand that they NOT supposed to be simply a lower level of central government. Similarly few understand that official duties are supposed to be separate from party duties. That perception is widely-held in the general population. It is reinforced in many communes such as ours, Kampong Samnanh, Takhmau, where the CPP party and Sangkhat (Commune) buildings are co-located.

Now please be under no doubt, there are good Commune Chiefs just as you can find good people within CPP-led central government, but it is an inescapable fact, the lack of clarity and separation of powers suits the party and others not so good. The Prime Minister is right of late regarding similar confusion between MFIs and public services. This is because Commune Chiefs are part of the due diligence processes by which references are checked for borrowers, and they also issue "soft title" guarantees of property ownership that MFIs rely upon. So they are integral to MFIs enforcing compliance. I suspect that this is what rests behind the Prime Minister's campaign - too many people have taken on loans they cannot afford; they and their families have suffered consequences of non-compliance with terms, and commune chiefs are inevitably caught up in the blame game. So you can ask - have they tried to help their hard-pressed constituents in need of access to credit and financial help, or have they been involved in supplementary activities to top up their meagre official salaries? Whatever, the election campaign is a good chance for the political parties to set out their policies on such issues, for the first time? And for local people to have a real say, for the first time?

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