Two newly elected opposition commune chiefs in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville are struggling to dislodge their Cambodian People’s Party predecessors following their recent swearing in to office.
Chhout Chhath, 65, who was elected commune chief in Phnom Penh’s Veal Vong commune, said former CPP Commune Chief Keo Sakol – now the current second deputy chief – refuses to vacate her office in the commune hall.
According to Chhath, Sakol suggested he work in a 5-square-metre room that does not presently have a desk or a chair. Chhath, who was previously second deputy for five years, currently sits at his old desk in the commune hall’s front room.
Sakol argued that she began working in the office in her current role before becoming commune chief in 2002. “[Chhath] wins and he wanted to kick me out; during my term he could sit anywhere,” she said. “This means he does not want us to work with him.”
First Deputy Commune Chief Heng Sean Leang, of the CNRP, said the matter would be reported to City Hall if the commune council could not resolve it during an internal meeting on Friday.
The newly elected CNRP chief for Commune 1 in Sihanoukville, Ouk Chettany, faces a similar problem, with the former CPP chief also refusing to vacate the commune chief’s office.
“He said that room belonged to him for a long time already, and said his documents are still there too,” said Chettany. “I am sitting in the meeting hall . . . If he will not hand over the room to me, I will sit in the meeting hall for the whole of my term.”
Chettany said a clerk will report the problem to the provincial governor this week.
Former Commune Chief Chhit Sophat, now second deputy commune chief, retorted that all the offices in the commune hall were of the same size. After he hung up the phone, he could not be reached for elaboration.
Nicfec Executive Director Sam Kuntheami said the former commune chiefs’ behaviour was out of step with their actual authority.
“Commune building is state property, and the new elected commune chief has the right to control it and to manage it for administration work,” he said.
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior Sak Sitha said that he has not yet received any reports about these cases. “Let them deal with it. This is how the subnational politicians learn how to work together.”