Prime Minister Hun Sen reassured the nation’s rural population on Saturday that they will not have to pay land taxes if his ruling CPP is re-elected in the 2008 national elections.
But one political observer on Sunday said that Hun Sen’s promise would also reassure wealthy officials speculating on land in rural areas that their newly acquired property investments would be exempt from taxation.
“If I continue to be the prime minister, I would continue to defend farmers, and would not let anyone levy taxes on land,” Hun Sen said in his speech at the inauguration of two bridges in Kompong Thom province.
In the speech, which was broadcast on television, Hun Sen assured viewers that his pledge was not an empty promise made to garner votes, though he also warned that if he were unseated, he would be unable to help farmers taxed by a new premier. “After the 2008 election, if Hun Sen is not the prime minister and the CPP loses the election and if the new prime minister taxes you, don’t come to me for help,” he said.
Hun Sen, who has raised the specter of a rural land tax on several occasions—and notably ahead of the 1998 election which the CPP narrowly won—said on Saturday that he was opposed to such taxes, “because farmers are poor.”
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that poor farmers would not be the only people to benefit, and that the government should take the time to map out who owns how much land and tax accordingly.
“High-ranking officials would also benefit because they have bought a lot of land from farmers,” he said.
“People with a lot of land should be taxed,” he said, adding that land left unproductive should especially be taxed.
Koul Panha also said that Hun Sen’s promise sounded like an election-time appeal to farmers who make up most of the country’s population.
Sam Rainsy Party member Mu Sochua said that if Hun Sen does not intend to impose land taxes on farmers, “It should be the policy of the government and not a promise in exchange for votes.”