The Ministry of Interior’s proposal to appoint commune secretaries separate from this year’s scheduled local elections has sparked concern from a major elections watchdog group.
Thun Saray, president of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Thursday that the appointed secretaries could undermine the newly elected commune leadership.
“I worry that those secretaries will become more powerful than the chief of the commune,” Thun Saray said.
Ministry of Interior and Council of Ministers officials met this week with UN experts to “brainstorm” proposals for commune elections, Interior Secretary of State Prum Sokha said Thursday.
One of the reasons the commune elections are considered crucial by pro-democracy groups is that they could allow for replacement of CPP-appointed commune chiefs.
But some fear that an appointed secretary—whose term would outlast the elected officials’ five year term—might be used as a tool by the CPP-dominated Ministry of Interior to retain control regardless of election results.
“We don’t want to see the Ministry of Interior use their power to influence the decisions at the commune level,” opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said.
Prum Sokha scoffed at the idea. “No. Secretaries do not have the right to make decisions….Secretaries are civil servants,” Prum Sokha said. “It’s like the secretary of a minister. Do they have more power than the minister? No!”
And, he said, the Interior proposal is tentative and must be approved by the Council of Ministers. It’s uncertain whether secretaries would be appointed before or after the elections.
Even if they are appointed before the polls, the secretaries would be neutral and would not participate in elections, Prum Sokha said. The Council of Ministers is considering changing commune power structure from one commune chief to a five-member council, he said.
Thun Saray said that whatever form commune leadership takes, the elected leaders can appoint their own administrators.
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