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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New political deal violates election, decentralization law

New political deal violates election, decentralization law

Aplanned village-level power-sharing deal between the government coalition parties

goes against public opinion and violates current election law, say election monitoring

NGOs.

The agreement between the CPP and Funcinpec would ignore requirements for appointment

of village chiefs by the commune councils, which is spelled out in the law governing

commune elections and administration.

The CPP and Funcinpec parties agreed in their coalition deal of July 27 to appoint

in early 2005 13,000 village chiefs and their 13,000 deputies. According to the deal,

CPP would appoint 70 percent of village chiefs and Funcinpec would appoint 70 percent

of the deputies. This would give the coalition full control of the villages. The

opposition Sam Rainsy Party would be excluded from representation at village level.

The details of the agreement were never publicly announced, but have now been acknowledged

by the Ministry of Interior.

Election monitoring NGOs are alarmed that the law developed as part of decentralisation

of local government is apparently to be over-ridden from a higher level.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL, which represents

about 14 associated NGOs) is lobbying for village elections to be held in 2007 (along

with the commune elections), a year before the next general election.

A survey by IRI claims that 90 percent of villages want free and fair elections.

Kung Hun Thearith, the Ministry of Interior's secretary of state and Funcinpec's

chief of cabinet told the Post on November 11 that the coalition agreement between

the CPP and Funcinpec was scheduled to appoint village chiefs and deputies in the

first three months of 2005.

He revealed that the CPP would appoint 70 percent of village chiefs, and Funcinpec

70 percent of their deputies.

"The proposals for power sharing at the village level were made between Funcinpec

President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Prime Minister Hun Sen," said Thearith.

He said that the running of open elections for village chiefs "is not a principle

of the coalition government."

Koul Panha, executive director of COMFREL, said the associated NGOs had criticized

the initiative of the CPP and Funcinpec to ignore the law and share appointment of

village chiefs.

Article 30 of the Law on Administration of Communes states that to increase the effectiveness

of commune administration, each commune council will organize to elect village chiefs

and the chief will appoint a deputy chief and one member as assistants.

The Minister of Interior will issue instructions concerning the formalities and procedures

for the selection of village chiefs, the holding of office, the removal of village

chiefs and the appointment of assistants to village chief.

The commune chief will assign the village chief to ensure security, public order

and economic and social development in the village.

The Minister of Interior will issue further instructions concerning the way in which

the village works and duties are to be performed properly.

Panha said that two main political parties appointing the village chief will resist

the efforts of local development and the enforcement of decentralization. The non-participation

of the SRP would remove an important element of democracy.

He estimated that the CPP had controlled 90 percent of the village chiefs since Vietnam

installed the government after toppling the Khmer Rouge regime.

The first country-wide commune elections were held in February 2002; the next are

due in 2007 (one year before the general election).

In the 2002 elections, the CPP won 68.4 percent of commune council seats of a total

1,621 communes, followed by Funcinpec with 19.6 percent seats. The Sam Rainsy Party

took 12 percent of the seats.

The SRP appointed 13 commune chiefs, 285 deputy commune chiefs, 615 second deputy

commune chiefs and 433 councillors.

An opinion survey of villagers conducted in January for the International Republic

Institute (IRI) said that 90 percent of the villagers supported holding elections

for village chiefs.

Sok Sitha, general director of Administration of the MoI told the Post on November

3 that there had been no instructions issued by the co-Ministers of Interior Sar

Kheng and Prince Norodom Sirivudh.

"I think that according to the agreement of political platform between the CPP

and Funcinpec, the village chiefs will be appointed in 2005," said Sitha.

Sitha wrote on March 24 to Comfrel that the ministry has been preparing the procedure

to appoint the village chiefs and included the role and obligation of village chiefs

according to the constitution and the law on Administration of Commune.

He wrote that the village was not an administration, and to run an election for village

chiefs was against the Constitution,and other regulations and normal procedures for

governing of the communes.

Keo Remy, an opposition lawmaker, said the CPP and Funcinpec were always against

the Constitution and the rule of law, therefore, the two parties could do everything

just as they wanted to.

He said the law was clear that the commune council was responsible for appointing

the village chiefs.

He said that sharing power to control village level positions was just a strategy

of CPP and Funcinpec to control the outcome of the national election in 2008.

The Cambodian Corruption Assessment issued by USAID in August said political discrimination

based on party affiliation extended down to the level of village and neighborhood.

The report stated that during natural disasters, observers accused the Cambodian

Red Cross of only helping CPP-affiliated families, not those that supported the opposition.

The report said that the people in an opposition-led commune (or sangkat) encountered

problems when applying for a water or electrical hookup and ended up paying bribes,

while the CPP parliamentarians regularly received support in providing constituent

services. CPP-affiliated bureaucrats did not respond to special requests from MPs

in other parties.

COMFREL said that to hold elections for the village was one way to reduce political

violence and discrimination at the local level.

"If the village chief is elected by the leaders of political parties this will

affect the effort of local development, the unity of villagers and the nation, the

transparency of the village and rights for participation, and will increase political

discrimination," the statement said.

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