More than 400 newly elected opposition commune chiefs took up their posts this week after winning at the local elections last month, the first time in history the Cambodia National Rescue Party has held strong power in local politics.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 1,156 seats to the CNRP’s 489, with one seat also won by the Khmer National United Party. The CNRP did best in cities such as Phnom Penh, where it won 57 councils out of 105.
Seng Sokhorn, 62, the new commune chief in Phsar Depo 2 commune, said she had “a strong commitment” to improve the commune and hoped the opposition’s increased popularity was a sign that it would do well at next year’s general election.
“I am committed already to doing the work to meet people’s demands while they give us confidence. Though there are obstacles, I have to take on the challenge,” she said.
Sokhorn, who was a councilor for almost a decade prior to her election on June 4, said she would launch a forum for local residents to communicate directly with their elected officials.
She added that her administration would “co-operate and join hands” with the former ruling party commune chief. “I cannot do it alone.”
“He has experience, so I can communicate with him and give him work to do,” she said.
However, Sokhorn said she was concerned that opposition-led communes could be discriminated against in the allocation of funding from central government, which is run by the CPP.
Communes in Cambodia receive modest budgets in the low tens of thousands of dollars. The opposition has claimed it would allocate at least $500,000 to communes if it wins the 2018 election.
Touch Chanthan, 60, the former commune chief, said the people voted for change and said he would co-operate with Sokhorn.
“She has experience since she has worked here. If she does not understand something, she can ask me,” he said.
Meas Sopheap, a CPP commune chief who was re-elected, pledged to double efforts to improve conditions at the local level, including building more roads, street lights and modern sewage systems.
“We have to take very good care of all services in the commune and communicate well with people, making things a hundred times better than we did previously.”
“The authorities have to serve the people at any time without thinking of resting. People face problems any time, too.”
But Kruoch Heng, a CNRP deputy commune chief, claimed Sopheap’s tenure had been marred by a lack of delegation and political favoritism.
“I was not assigned work to do. I just had a position, but was given no work,” he said.