TECHNICAL and legislative holdups are again delaying the commune elections,
which look unlikely to be held before the end of next year or early 2001 at the
The main problem remains passage of the commune elections draft
law. It has been in the planning stages for almost six years.
Secretary of State for the Ministry of Interior, Prum Sokha, said speed has not
been a factor in the draft law's formulation.
"We're trying to keep the
pace [of the draft law's formulation] moving, but slowly," said Sokha.
"According to our speed, the draft law should be completed in the first six
months of next year."
Sokha dismissed allegations made by Funcinpec and
Sam Rainsy Party legislators that the CPP is blocking the commune elections for
fear they will erode its current monopoly on power at the grassroots level.
"The Commune Elections Draft Law has not stalled ... The government is
committed to holding the elections as part of its public administration reform
objectives," he said.
The Kingdom is divided into 1,606 communes, ranging
in population from 1,000 to 50,000 residents.
The idea of providing
Cambodian citizens a voice in local affairs through the election of a commune
chief was first mandated during the UNTAC period.
originally planned to hold the elections before the 1998 national election, but
the July 1997 fighting caused them to drop those plans," Sokha said.
the interim, wrangling over the details of how the commune elections should be
conducted and what they should achieve has changed.
commune elections were to be for the election of a commune chief," Sokha said.
"Now the plan is for people to vote for commune councils."
candidates that garner the most votes in each commune will assume the roles of
commune "chief" and "deputy chiefs" respectively.
The alterations in the
form of the Commune Election Draft Law are apparently the result of a ministry
"brainstorming session" in February attended by representatives of the United
Nations Development Program and "other concerned ministries".
session produced change in the scope of the powers wielded by elected
representatives at the commune level, with certain provincial and national
powers devolved to communes.
"The commune councils will have the power to
make decisions themselves relating to rural development ... and the utilization
of their own human and physical resources," Sokha said.
disputes that might arise between commune councils and provincial and national
ministries will be "negotiated by a [yet unformed] "inter-ministerial
Sokha describes the commune elections as a key plank in the
government's commitment to decentralization.
"Decentralization is not
easy, [so] our philosophy is to start with the most simple, lower level [of
government]," Sokha said. "Other countries that have started decentralization
have failed immediately because that started with the most complex level [of
According to Sokha, the decentralization of powers slated
to occur in the aftermath of the commune elections will provide a much-needed
boost to other government development plans.
"The establishment of the
commune councils will also [assist to] alleviate poverty in the countryside and
help build up the basis of democracy," Sokha said.
"Even though people at
the commune level may not be educated, they know how to govern
But those goals remain elusive due to the MOI's snail's pace
in forwarding the draft law to the National Assembly for approval.
"Prime Minister Hun Sen has given his agreement in principle to the
changes in the draft law," Sokha said. "Now [the Ministry of Interior] will
amend and redraft the law."
Although insisting that the government is
committed to "keeping the process moving without delay", Sokha quashes any hope
of a completed Commune Elections Draft Law by the end of 1999.