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When governing is a family affair

Pailin’s provincial governor, Y Chhean (left), and his wife, Ban Srey Mom, a parliamentary lawmaker light a candle at the cremation ceremony of Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary in Banteay Meanchey province in March.
Pailin’s provincial governor, Y Chhean (left), and his wife, Ban Srey Mom, a parliamentary lawmaker, light a candle at the cremation ceremony of Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary in Banteay Meanchey province in March. HENG CHIVOAN

When governing is a family affair

Debate can often rage over who is in charge of resolving issues across the country as they arise – provincial governors or provincial lawmakers.

“Whenever there is a problem, especially if it is a serious violation of rights, the governor has to meet with the lawmaker,” opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday.

When such a scenario plays out in Pailin and Kampot over the next five years, the participants involved will be husband and wife.

Official results from July 28’s election revealed on Sunday that Un Sokunthea secured a seat for the Cambodian People’s Party in Kampot province. Her husband is Kampot Provincial Governor Khoy Khun Huor.

It is the first seat Sokunthea, a former National Police deputy commissioner, has won in her own right. In the previous mandate she also found herself in the National Assembly, but only after she was gifted a seat because an elected lawmaker vacated it in 2011.

Sokunthea could not be reached yesterday, but Khun Huor said the pair’s personal relationship did not present any conflict of interest when it came to governing. In fact, he added, dealing with his wife had made his decisions “easier”.

“We have different duties as lawmaker and governor, but the same aim to serve the interests of the nation,” he said. “[My wife] has already given provincial authorities a lot of real information about people and their land disputes, so as the provincial authority, I have been able to advocate successfully for the people.”

In Kampot, if villagers have issues with the way the provincial governor and his office is treating them, they will have other options than to take their grievances to Sokunthea.

Five other lawmakers, three of them members of the CNRP, will also represent them.

In Pailin, it’s a different story. Voters in the single-seat province have elected Ban Srey Mom. She is married to Y Chhean, the provincial governor (and former bodyguard to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot). Neither could be reached for comment yesterday.

Family connections are not unusual in the two major parties – Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Many was this week given a seat in the assembly, while CNRP lawmakers Yim Sovann and Ker Sovanroth are married.

But Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, believes it’s the first time Pailin and Kampot provinces have elected lawmakers while their spouses are provincial governors.

“Our lawmakers don’t really have so much power, so maybe [the CPP] is just strengthening its power in those provinces,” he said.

Provincial governors, by law, are essentially only civil servants and therefore should be politically neutral, Panha added.

“But, in fact, they’re like politicians.”

The situations in Pailin and Kampot could therefore result in “some kind” of conflict of interest, he said.

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