As her co-workers recently scurried out of the office to get lunch, Phsar Thmey 1 commune chief Si Ton sat by her phone, awaiting a call from a resident in need of her signature.
The 67-year-old civil servant often skips her lunch break, determined to squeeze as much work for her constituents into every working day she has left.
Elected commune chief for the fourth time on June 4, Ms Ton says it’s time to pass on the torch and is putting her best efforts forth in what will be her last mandate.
“After this term, it is time for the next generation to take over,” she said. “I will retire and spend more time with my family.”
The CPP narrowly retained control of Phsar Thmey 1 commune on June 4, garnering 1,470 votes to the opposition CNRP’s 1,289.
This translated into the commune chief position, as well as four councillor seats to the CNRP’s three seats.
Despite the victory, Ms Ton spoke through tears as she discussed the tight race.
“Through my efforts to lead the commune, I should not have only four seats for this commune,” she said.
“I’m not satisfied. We should have won five or six seats at least. We have tried to serve the people, but the people are still not satisfied.”
But, when speaking with those who know Ms Ton, only praise was offered about the long-time civil servant, who has been serving the commune since the 1980s and received the Outstanding Asean Women Award from Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 2016.
Former CNRP Phsar Thmey commune councilor Sitab Sothea said Ms Ton is the hardest-working civil servant she has had the pleasure of working with.
“I admire her,” she said. “She is popular in the commune because she is friendly and communicates well with residents.
“She understands the difficulties facing residents and works to solve them without allowing politics to interfere.
“It never mattered what political party someone was from,” she added. “Ms Ton is willing to work with anyone.”
Asked to pinpoint Mrs Ton’s shortcomings, Ms Sothea said she could not think of any and added that the commune chief always accepted alternative viewpoints and worked with district authorities to improve her neighbourhood.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said Ms Ton is a beacon of inspiration for women fighting for their place in public service still dominated by men.
“If we compare the effectiveness of women and men, even men themselves recognise that women are more skilled in resolving conflicts or at negotiating and coordinating conflicts in the community,” said Ms Sopheap.
Back in her office, Ms Ton said praise from her colleagues is what keeps her going after many years of public service.
“As a leader in the commune, I have always loved the people like my children and that makes my services better,” she said.
“People are not pieces of pork that commune officials can exploit for their own benefit.”
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