Long-time government critic Chhay Thy joined the Cambodian People’s Party to become Pate commune chief. He speaks to Ven Rathavong
KT. Why did you decide to join with CPP?
Mr. Thy: I wished to be a commune chief because I wanted to use the position to develop the commune. Secondly, I saw that the CNRP in Ratanakkiri province has internal conflict. The opposition party has never had an accurate structure and what I saw in the CPP was that it had both a strong structure and political maturity.
KT. Why did you choose Pate commune?
Mr. Thy: My wife and I live in this commune, which is an ethnic Jarai minority village. My house and land are here. This is a commune where I will die and lay my bones. I have to do whatever I can to be better in order to keep my reputation here and for the future generations to love me.
KT. Can you briefly speak about the election result? What is your view of the result?
Mr. Thy: The CPP received two seats in the commune election in June. The Grassroots Democracy Party (GDP) received two seats, and the CNRP received one. The CPP won overall with 20 votes over the GDP.
The CNRP had previously won two mandates, but the villagers have lost their belief in the party. They had been promised a new road, but about 10 years later, there was still nothing.
So they voted for the CPP. They saw that I had worked for an NGO, so they respected me, and they tried their best to make me become commune chief.
KT. Why did the CPP not get absolute majority seats in the commune?
Mr. Thy: If it hadn’t been for the GDP, the voters would have voted for CPP. The supporting votes for CPP in the four villages were a majority. CPP got support from all the villages, except Korng Thom village.
Korng Thom village is bigger, and had much support from people who had left to live in the US. CNRP also supported the ethnic Jarai minority people and so many people in this village supported the CNRP.
KT. Can you compare your work with the NGO and your work as commune chief?
Mr. Thy: When I worked for the NGO, I controlled the whole province, but I was not directly involved. I did not have authority like a commune chief. I just received complaints and consulted.
The commune may be small, but the duties of the commune are high. I have spent a lot of time helping villagers, in development, public service and other requirements of the villagers.
It is much more tiring than working for the NGO, as I have to implement everything directly.
But I can do better than the former commune chief to resolve the problems of the villagers because of the experience I have from working with Adhoc.
KT. Can the CPP win the national election in 2018?
Mr. Thy: About 80 percent of villagers in the commune supported the CPP, except for only one village. Commune councillors from other parties also admire me, so I believe that there will be more voters to vote and support the CPP in the coming election.
KT. What are your priorities to develop this commune?
Mr. Thy: Firstly, we will develop the roads. Secondly, we aim to educate people about illegal logging and the destruction of the community forest. We will gently explain to them the legal implications and the impact logging will have on future generations. We will use education to change their behaviour.
KT. As there were two seats for the GDP and one seat for the CNRP, what will you do to garner support from people who didn’t vote for the CPP?
Mr. Thy: At this time, I do not think of them as other political parties, I think of them as commune councillors, so I have to follow the role and duties of each councillor. I always bring this idea with me while working and so the councillors from other parties are happy to support and cooperate with me.
Whatever I do, I have to be a role model for other people to make them listen to us.
KT. You have been known as a government critic over many issues, included mining. What do think about this issue when your villagers also have a problem with a mining company?
Mr. Thy: I believe there must be justice for both sides, and I support any company which follows the law, but I will find justice for any villager who suffers from this impact. Since I took office, I have not received any complaint related to this issue from the villagers. If the villagers have suffered from it, I would not defend the company, I would have to help the villagers.