Gov’t Fires Hundreds of Opposition Councilors, Cuts Salaries

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday said it had made good on its plan to cut the salaries of all opposition party commune councilors who have been registered to run for another party in June’s commune elections.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced the plan last month, citing the Law on Political Parties, which forbids people from being members of more than one party at a time and recognizes only the most recent membership as valid.

cam photo commune HEADSHOT
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

The move affects hundreds of councilors who won their seats in 2012 as members of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Human Rights Party (HRP), which merged later that year to form the opposition CNRP. Those councilors running again this year have all registered as candidates for the CNRP.

On Wednesday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said their positions were nullified last month and their salary payments halted.

“Look at the law,” he said. “They were elected with the SRP and HRP, but they are standing for the CNRP. So they lose their original party positions.”

Senior CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who was named a party vice president in February, said the government should have waited until after the election.

“We are very sorry that the Interior Ministry has done this because there are only two more months left,” he said, adding that tasks would be left undone in communes once the sacked councilors leave.

By law, councilors who lose their seats must be replaced by the next name on the party’s candidate list. But Teav Vannol, the SRP’s acting president, said the government’s sudden announcement had left the seats vacant.

Mr. Vannol said the SRP did not warn its councilors that they might be losing their jobs and salaries because it did not believe the government would follow through on its announcement.

“We did not inform our members of the salary cuts because we did not think the government would cut their salaries,” he said.

Mr. Vannol said that he believed the move was purely political, intended to hurt the CNRP’s standing in the communes and among its candidates just ahead of the June 4 elections.

“Our competitors want us to have difficulties as the election campaign nears. It is a kind of political discrimination,” he said. “Their salaries are very important for supporting their families, and as the election approaches, they can’t find new jobs.”

Of the 11,450 commune council positions up for grabs in 2012, the SRP and HRP won a combined 2,955, about 26 percent.

Snguon Samean, an SRP commune chief and farmer in Kompong Chhnang province, said her $188 monthly government salary was critical.

“I have worked for the people, but I have not been paid,” she said. “How can I feed my family?”

Yim Sarun, who earned about $138 a month as a deputy commune chief for the SRP in Prey Veng province, said the government owed him for his month’s work.

“It is very unfair that the Interior Ministry did this,” he said. “It is not a lot of money. They should pay us because we did the work.”

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