As Cambodians consider candidates for local elections later this year, they are used to public service as a low priority. Instead, many local commune councilors use their positions to serve the ruling party, Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” Monday.
“There is still political discrimination at the local administration,” he said, but the severity is less at the local level than in national politics.
Cambodia will hold commune council elections June 3, with national elections slated for July 2013. The commune election process is meant to decentralize power from the central government.
However, Ou Virak said commune chiefs are sometimes caught between representing their community and bending to pressure from senior officials of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
“Ultimately, the commune chiefs have to give in to the party,” he said.
Still, Cambodia’s politics have made some gains in the last decade, he said, and there are now some commune chiefs who have sided with their communities in cases like land grabbing and forest protection.
“This reflects a positive process of decentralization, though such cases are still few in number,” he said.
A further step forward would be a change in the election law allowing independent candidates—those without party affiliation—to run, he said.
“Commune council candidates should be fully independent and not publicly affiliated to any political parties,” he said.