Balaing commune chief Bou Noem, in Siem Reap’s Prasat Bakorng district, hopes to take it easy after June 5. At 64 years old, Noem is stepping down for the next five-year commune election mandate.
“I’m old,” Noem said this week. “I’ll stay at home and do little things for my life. I’m happy to see a new generation. They have the ability.”
Balaing commune is just one of hundreds around the country in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party is replacing the sitting commune chief with a new candidate for the upcoming vote. In most cases, the commune chiefs are stepping down by choice, and the party will continue to take care of them, a spokesperson said.
Sok Eysan, the CPP’s spokesperson, said 30% of communes were seeing a turnover of their top commune-chief candidate, up from a 23% turnover rate in the previous 2017 commune election.
“We’re including more women and younger people than in the old mandate,” Eysan said. New candidates were selected based on abilities, prior positions and political views, he said.
The ruling party, however, is still lagging in women candidates at 26% of their total nominees. That is up only slightly from less than 25% in 2017.
Eysan added that the CPP had a policy to never abandon old commune chiefs even after they step down from their positions. “Except if they are sick, lost their faculties, can’t remember things, we allow them to stop [voluntarily] — but we still feed them,” he said.
In some cases, current commune chiefs are not leaving the job entirely. Mouen Vibol, chief of Battambang’s O’Char commune, said he would remain on the CPP’s candidate list ranked No. 3 for a potential commune councilor position.
“For the new candidate, we don’t know yet about their capacity. We’ll observe their activities,” Vibol said. “But being above an old leader like me is not a problem.”
Vibol, now 63, recalled that he had worked in local administrations for more than 40 years. But he wanted to continue as long as he could, he said. “I know that when I’m old, I’ll stop … and just stay home.”
New candidates stepping in to fill the shoes of sitting commune chiefs said they were talking closely with their predecessors about the demands of the job they would assume if the party were to win the vote in their communes next month.
Em Phalla, who is the top-ranked ruling-party candidate in O’Char, replacing Vibol, said he spoke constantly with all previous commune chiefs about the local residents. He wanted to be as active in the commune as Vibol has been, Phalla said.
“They are easy to work with, and we live in the same society and we should adopt their goodness,” Phalla said.
Lam Nat, in Siem Reap’s Balaing commune, said she had been learning from the older members of the party, including commune chief Noem, though she also wanted to put her own stamp on issues of women’s empowerment.
“Since working in the party, the party has taught me that in the CPP, the principle is to coordinate, not remove.”