Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

New Candlelight Party Commune Councilors Allege Discrimination

Villagers drive past Doung Commune office of Kampong Thom province, June 8, 2022. CamboJA/ Sorn Sarath
Villagers drive past Doung Commune office of Kampong Thom province, June 8, 2022. CamboJA/ Sorn Sarath

Dozens of newly appointed opposition commune councilors have complained they are being discriminated against by ruling party commune chiefs, making it impossible for them to carry out their work.

“I have received information that it has happened in almost all provinces, and I am now asking our councillors to report back on the problems they’re faced with, including being given no offices in which to carry out their work,”  said Thach Setha, vice president of the Candlelight Party.

Mr. Setha said he would forward those reports to the Interior Ministry and ask them to intervene.

In Kampong Thom province, deputy commune chiefs and councilors from the Candlelight Party said they have no offices to work from and no uniforms.

“I am first deputy commune chief and I don’t have an office space yet,” said Khy Sokly, the Candlelight Party’s deputy commune chief in Popoak, Santuk district.

There are a total of seven seats in Popoak commune, three from the ruling CPP, three from the Candlelight Party, and one seat from Funcinpec.

But Mr. Sokly said that despite having been sworn in after the recent commune elections – which were won in a landslide by the CPP, with only four Candlelight Party representatives becoming commune chiefs countrywide  – he hasn’t been able to do his work, despite going to the commune office everyday.

“There is a lack of cooperation related to work contribution and work structuring – it is like water and oil in Popoak commune,” he said.

“I do not have a job to do,” he added, explaining that commune chief Keo Norn kept all the documents to himself.

When Norn was away, Sokly said he was prevented from signing off on paperwork providing any public services, such as birth certificates.

“When the commune chief is not present, he doesn’t transfer me the right to sign off on things,” he said. “I just go to work every day but there is nothing for me to do.”

However, Norn rejected allegations of discrimination, saying that since last week office space had been set up for everyone.

When setting things up after elections, “we were so busy at work that we didn’t organize rooms immediately,” he explained. “We are not discriminating against any parties. We are working and serving people together.”

In terms of the councilors’ uniforms, he said that the budget was being  reviewed and they’d get them by next month.

Nguon Ratanak, Kampong Thom provincial governor, declined to comment.

But CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied that ruling party commune chiefs have discriminated against councilors from other parties.

He said that private offices were just for commune chiefs and their deputies, and that the councillors have no specific rooms as the commune offices are too small.

“There are three rooms in the commune office, we can’t provide enough rooms for all seven or eight councilors,” he said. “There is no discrimination.”

However Sok Kimseng, secretary of the Candlelight Party in Siem Reap province, said opposition councillors in that province had faced similar problems to the ones in Kampong Thom.

“There is discrimination against councilors from the opposition party,” he said, noting they don’t have offices or uniforms.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, said commune councillors had been elected and shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their political affiliation by ruling party commune chiefs.

“They have not recognized that we are living in democratic society.

I think that maybe they are afraid that [opposition councilors] will see if they are doing bad things.“

If they won’t cooperate, it just shows that democracy remains fragile, he said, and it will negatively impact public services.

Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said the ministry would look into the issue.  He said there were designated offices at commune halls for the commune chief, two deputy commune chiefs, and a clerk’s office.

He added that interior minister Sar Kheng has stressed that councilors from the ruling party and opposition parties need to cooperate in order to serve the people.