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District elections on hold for near-term

District elections on hold for near-term

Vice-Minister of Interior You Hokry denied that district level elections would

be held in the next six months. He stated, however, that "commune-level

elections would be held in the next year or two."

NGO and Human Rights

sources in Battambang said last week that they had been told by government

officials that nation-wide elections for District Chiefs would be held by

August.

Human rights officials in Phnom Penh who were approached for

confirmation disclaimed any knowledge of this, but agreed that if true, holding

elections would transform the political landscape.

"If district level

elections were held with real competition and secret ballots, that would be a

strong move toward democracy," one said.

Currently, none of the officials

at the village, commune, district or Provincial level are elected. Hokry

indicated that village and district chiefs will continue to be

appointed.

Hokry who said that there are several reforms needed in the

civil administration sector before any elections can be held.

"The first

move is to install the new governors," Hokry said. Ten FUNCINPEC governors have

replaced State of Cambodia governors of Provinces. In some cases, the former

governor is now a Vice-Governor. The changes were made in the last month.

Hokry added: "Secondly the new management structure in the Ministry of

Interior has to be filled out. Third, police commissioners in the provinces have

to be appointed."

The minister said that in provinces where the governor

is from the FUNCINPEC party, the police chief will be from the Cambodian

People's Party, and vice versa.

Finally, District Chiefs have to be

appointed, Hokry said. He added "then elections for commune chief can be held in

a year or two."

Currently leaders at all levels of the civil

administration are appointed.

With the exception of the newly-appointed

governors and vice-governors, the administrative layers in the country are those

that were in place before the UN-organized May elections.

Battambang NGO

workers said that for the 80 per cent of the population which lives in the

countryside, village chiefs are the most important leader. They are primarily

involved in settling disputes and over-seeing the use and distribution of

land.

NGO workers indicated that if the village leaders were elected,

they would be more accountable to the villagers.

Though village chiefs

have been selected by the government during the period of the State of Cambodia,

Khmer cultural expert Dr Peter Gyallay-Pap says that traditionally the village

chiefs were selected democratically.

Dr Gyallay-Pap said that though

there were not now open elections, a consensus emerged on the man best suited to

lead the village in a manifestly democratic process.

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