Prime Minister Hun Sen has offered to pay back the lost salaries of opposition lawmakers who were stripped of their parliamentary posts in June by the then CPP-led National Assembly, a CNRP official said.
The offer to back-pay the 27 lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party (HRP) came during the first day of top-level negotiations on Monday aimed at resolving a post-election impasse between Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling CPP and the CNRP.
Son Chhay, the CNRP’s chief whip and a former SRP parliamentarian who was among those ousted, said that he and his colleagues were likely to accept the money, and that the whole affair exposed the lack of independence of the country’s legislature.
“[Paying us back] is something [the CPP] would have to do, because they are the one who abused their power. If they give it back to us it is OK, it is nothing we are going to get excited about,” Mr. Chhay said.
“When we talk to them [CPP leaders] they still say parliament is independent, and at the same time they tell the [CPP] members to give money back to [CNRP lawmakers] because it has been taken from us over these past months,” he said, adding that the offer was made by Mr. Hun Sen himself.
Prak Sokhon, a CPP secretary of state at the Council of Ministers who attended the talks, referred questions about Mr. Hun Sen’s offer to reimburse the lawmakers’ lost salaries to CPP lawmaker-elect Cheam Yeap, who said he was unaware of the offer.
“I don’t know about this issue,” Mr. Yeap said.
Ou Chanrith, a CNRP lawmaker-elect and former HRP parliamentarian who was among those expelled by the CPP-dominated Assembly in June, said that parliamentarians earn a base salary of about $1,000, but earned up to $2,300 per month including allowances for petrol, rental cars, drivers and other expenses.
Having been removed from parliament for more than three months, this would mean that, in total, the ousted opposition lawmakers in total are owed up to $200,000 in arrears.
Though legal experts were split on the constitutionality of the CPP’s ouster of the opposition members of parliament, the move was nonetheless blasted by civil society groups and the U.S. State Department.
“Stripping the salaries and parliamentary status of opposition party legislators deprives the Cambodian people of their voice and hurts the democratic process in Cambodia,” the State Department said in a statement issued on June 8.
Those remarks drew the ire of CPP National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun, who said in a press conference on June 11 that the U.S. should drop its “colonial ideas,” as the CPP leaders of parliament were simply following Cambodian laws.
“The National Assembly did not strip their [opposition lawmakers] membership, the…laws did,” Mr. Vun said at a press conference held at the National Assembly on June 11. “If they had not joined the Cambodia National Rescue Party and made the announcement in the Assembly, this would not have happened,” he said at the time.
That the CPP leadership is now symbolically reversing its June expulsion exposed the weakness of their original rationale to do so, said independent political analyst Kem Ley.
“They should say that the opposition lawmakers were wrong or right according to National Assembly laws. This was the ruling [to expel opposition lawmakers] and if it was right, they should stand by that. If they [CPP lawmakers] were wrong [in their initial decision] they should say it publicly,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent lawyer and member of the board of directors of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the pledge of cash by Mr. Hun Sen might ultimately be used to the advantage of the ruling party.
“The CPP can gain a lot politically from this,” he said, adding that the move could reduce tensions between CPP and CNRP leaders in post-election negotiations and possibly be used to damage the CNRP’s reputation. “It can show to the public that maybe the CNRP favors only money,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)