Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Quick Info
Title : The Cambodian Khum from 1897 to 1919 and its contemporary Relevance.
Type : Master Degree Thesis
File Size : 764 KB
Language : English
Author : Mr. Chheat Sreang


While the claim that the 2002 local elections were the first local elections in Cambodia was widely circulated, there have been few attempts to study this subject historically. Also, the argument about female participation in previous local elections was doubted by the author. Research was needed on the origin of the local administration (khum) itself and the democratic elections during the French period. Whether the local organization was a failure or success was also worth being studied.

By critically analyzing the documents we could find at the Phnom Penh National Archives, we made some surprising findings. Local elections took place as far back as 1897 at least in some form and in some parts of the country. However, they were never held in every part of the kingdom. And only men who had paid the impôt personnel were allowed to vote. Nevertheless, the selection of local administrators was a kind of consensus between the villagers and the provincial governor. Besides, the study shows that the structure of the khum administration, which had been evolving since 1888-92, continued to develop over time. Another remarkable finding is the creation of a well-organized local administration. This proposition came from the French within the framework of reforming Cambodian society in 1884. After that, local administration was reorganized by a series of ordinances.

The purpose of creating the khum was two-edged. One was for the well being of the inhabitants, including ensuring security and all khum property such as roads, schools, forests, etc. The other was to create agents for the colonial administration, to collect taxes, and keep their superiors informed about what was going on in the khum. That is, they were expected to act as the higher echelons of the administration representatives rather than the representatives of the people.

Subsequent reorganizations of the khum reflected administrative failure in several ways. The commune chief and councilors were very often corrupt. The corruption was considered a result of their unsalaried position. Local democracy through elections was like a show. Illiteracy was another critical reason leading to the unworkability of the ordinances. A great deal of responsibility fell on the unsalaried local administrators who had to work without a local budget. All these challenges are still continuing to confront the development of local administration today.