PM Promises No Land Taxes If Re-Elected

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.”

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