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Upcoming Provincial Elections Costly, Observers Say

Cambodian workers look through a partition of a construction site below a banner which reads "Where is my vote" as supporters of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party gather in Phnom Penh, file photo.
With Cambodia set to host provincial and city council elections in May, development organizations say the elections should be rolled into commune council elections instead.

Commune elections happen every five years, one year prior to national parliamentary elections, and require votes by everyday citizens.

The provincial and city elections, by contrast, are only voted in by members of each commune council. This costs a lot of money, but doesn’t really provide a true democratic choice, Koul Panha, head of the election-monitoring group Comfrel, told VOA Khmer.

However, officials like Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, say the mid-level elections are necessary.

“It would make trouble for voters to vote the same day for two different councils,” he said.

Tep Nitha, secretary-general for the National Election Committee, said a change in the election procedures was not under NEC authority.

Election monitors also warned of vote-buying and other irregularities in the May 18 election, where nearly 11,500 commune council members will vote for more than 3,000 positions in provincial and municipal councils.

Koul Panha said that while no major problems are expected, vote-buying and pressure on council members need to be curbed.

Hang Puthea, head of the election-monitoring group Nicfec, said commune council members should vote their conscience.

“They all should fulfill their duties to select the councils thoroughly with their own personal views and judgments to support a party or candidate,” he said.

No matter the vote, he said, the provincial and municipal councils have little power when compared to the national government and the governors. “Power is centralized at the provincial governors and the district governors,” he said.

Koul Panha said centralized power is still the norm for Cambodia, despite an attempt to decentralize through the councils.

“The project of decentralization and centralization has not worked smoothly and effectively, because some of the powers are centralized within the government and the [ruling] party too much,” he said.