The Law on Administration of Communes, passed by the National Assembly on Friday
12 January, is a worrying matter for those who were hoping that the election of Commune
Councils, and local governance reforms, would deliver to Cambodia a more responsive
and accountable government.
The concern has been expressed for some time that the involvement of political parties
in the local government elections would make them less participatory, accountable
and effective than they might otherwise have been. The fear was that commune councillors
who are members of political parties would be more concerned with answering to their
political bosses than they would be responding to the needs of their constituents.
The law as passed by the National Assembly now virtually guarantees that this will
be the case. Article 16 of the law now includes the provision that a commune councillor
will lose his/her place on the council if he/she "loses membership of his/her
What does this mean? It means that if commune councillors, no matter how effective
they are in serving their constituents, fall out of favour with their political masters,
they might lose their spot on the council. It means that every time a commune councillor
makes a decision, the councillor needs to be sure the decision is supported at the
highest party levels.
Where is the "participatory democracy" preached by the Ministry of Interior
in its "Memorandum Outline of the Scope and Content of Decentralisation."
How do such measures bring "government closer to the people"? One might
try to be positive about the potential benefits of local governance in Cambodia.
It is very hard to do so, however, when the law demonstrates so clearly that local
governance reforms are only providing a further avenue for dominant political parties
to extend their influence.
- Kim Chhorn, Program Co-ordinator, Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia