Apparently expecting losses at the June 4 commune elections, the Cambodian People’s Party has assigned each government minister responsibility for a province, instructing them to hire any commune chiefs who fail to win re-election there as assistants.
The ruling party dominated the June 2012 commune elections, winning in 1,592 of the nation’s commune councils to the opposition’s 40, but is now almost certain to see at least moderate losses thanks to a since-resurgent, now-unified opposition.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party, an alliance of two long-bickering opposition parties that was created a month after their 2012 shellacking, came within just seven seats of winning the July 2013 national election a year later, and its leaders say they are confident of further gains.
With that seemingly in mind, a directive signed December 23 by Men Sam An, the minister for National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections, says that if some of the CPP’s 1,592 commune chiefs do lose in five months’ time, they will not have to search too hard for new jobs.
“On behalf of Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, I would like to divide the list of names of the leaders of the ministries and institutions to help be responsible for the commune chiefs whose names do not win in the 2017 mandate,” the directive says.
Beside each minister’s name is a column titled “Accept assistants from the communes in”, which then lists the provinces they will take responsibility for. Most ministers are given a single province to take assistants from, but a few larger provinces are assigned two ministers.
However, Transport Minister Sun Chanthol and Tourism Minister Thong Khon are listed as being assigned to four provinces on their own, while Sam An herself is listed as being responsible for both Stung Treng province and neighbouring Ratanakkiri.
Chanthol’s assignment is the northern and northwestern provinces of Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Pailin and Banteay Meanchey, while Khon takes seaside provinces Koh Kong, Kep and Kampot, along with the central province of Kampong Thom.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon are assigned to Kampong Cham, where the CNRP made some of its largest gains at the 2013 election, and where deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha has pledged to dominate.
Environment Minister Say Sam Al and Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron take responsibility for Phnom Penh, while, among the others, Interior Minister Sar Kheng is assigned to Battambang province and Defence Minister Tea Banh to Siem Reap.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday that the ruling party was in no way acknowledging it was about to lose a lot of communes at the June 4 ballot, but was simply ensuring that its long-serving party members felt comfortable during a time of potential turmoil.
“Sometimes we will lose one or two people, and we need to pay attention to them, as they have contributed actively to the party for a long time and have done a lot of good things,” Eysan said.
“For the current commune chiefs who are standing as candidates, we need to think about their salaries and the other benefits to guarantee their livelihoods,” he said.
“Elections rely on the people . . . and if they do not win, we need to think about them.”
“This is preparation for after the elections,” he said. “They will not be isolated or be abandoned by the party, and the CPP never abandons anybody.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition was focused only on winning, believing that the party could win a majority of the more than 1,600 communes in the country rather than the meagre 40 its constituent parties won last time, adding that the CPP could do whatever it wished in the mean time.
“If you want to win elections and you want to win the hearts of the people, you have to understand their basic needs, their want for social justice and the non-corruption of society, and basic public services. This is what the people want,” Sovann said.
“If you fulfil their needs, you will get support. In their job, [the CPP] can do what they want to do, but the CNRP focuses on the needs of the people. We believe we will win a majority of communes.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALEX WILLEMYNS