In the lead up to June’s commune elections, several local opposition leaders here have lost their jobs, leading villagers to wonder why the well-liked commune chief was removed along with two councilors and other members of staff.
“I don’t know about the removal and I am just wondering why the commune chief was stopped,” said Nul Seab, 37, who was seeking help from the authorities with documentation to allow her daughter to get a job.
Hundreds of opposition commune officials who had changed party allegiance since they were elected in 2012 were fired from their positions after Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered them removed.
The order affected hundreds of councilors from the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party, which merged to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party ahead of the 2013 general election.
The CPP won the majority of seats in the 2012 commune elections, securing more than 8,000 of the nearly 11,500 council seats up for grabs. The opposition only won 40 of the 1,633 commune chief positions.
Sguon Samean, a former SRP commune chief, who was removed from the post on March 20, said the abrupt decision had badly impacted on her constituents.
“I have a lot of documents that have not been signed yet. I have not finished my work yet. The documents are important for people,” she said, adding that outstanding payments on her $190 monthly salary had also not been made.
Oum Som, another CNRP councilor who lost his job after Kheng’s order, said he regretted working in March without pay.
“They stopped us, but I also wonder why they stopped the contracted staffs at the commune,” he added.
Three staffers in Trapaing Chan commune were also suspended, a move staff deemed political as they were all due to stand as opposition candidates in the upcoming election on June 4.
Van Pharun, one of the staffers, said although she was contracted through to the end of the year, her work was stopped short with little explanation.
“I don’t think it’s in accordance with the law. If I’m not fulfilling my duties they should have called a meeting. They stopped me without a logical reason,” she said.
According to the letter of suspension, dated March 30, Sang Khat, the acting commune chief and a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the staffers had been fired after they failed to show up for work following the dismissal of their superiors.
Khuon Saorum, the district governor, said he would intervene in the decision to fire the commune staff members, claiming the commune chief did not have the power to end their contracts.
General Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, said the commune officials’ salaries would remain unpaid.
“Losing them does not mean the work stops. They are not the most important people,” he said.
The commune elections, scheduled for June 4, are promising to be a competitive affair, with the CPP and CNRP appearing to have comparable support. Twelve parties will contest the election, but only the CPP and CNRP have registered candidates in the country’s 1,646 communes.