Hundreds of local-level opposition leaders are set to lose their salaries after Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered the removal of all current commune and district councilors competing in the upcoming election for a different political party than the one they were elected under.
“All governors must give urgent advice to commune and district administrations to prepare documents and ask for the replacement of commune councilors,” Mr. Kheng said in a letter published late on Tuesday.
The move appears to target councilors who were elected under the Sam Rainsy Party or Human Rights Party in the June 2012 commune elections, before the two parties merged to form the CNRP later that year.
The two parties won a combined 26 percent of the commune seats in 2012, but secured just 2 percent of the commune chief spots.
Mr. Kheng called for immediate action against councilors under articles 15 and 16 of the newly amended Law on Political Parties. The two articles were part of the original 1997 law.
There are incumbent councilors standing for a different party to the one which they were elected under, he said.
“If a commune or district councilor of a party stands to be a full or reserved candidate in another political party, [only] their membership in their latest party is considered valid,” he said.
“So commune or district councilors will lose their memberships from their original party in accordance with the Law on the Political Parties,” he added.
Under Cambodian law, councilors who lose their membership of a political party can no longer serve on the commune council, and must be replaced by the next name on the party’s candidate list. They would also lose their salaries.
More than 88,000 candidates will vie for the 11,572 seats up for grabs nationally in the June 4 commune elections, the National Election Committee announced last week.
Sok Lou, the governor of Kompong Thom province, said on Wednesday that he had already sent instructions to local administrations, saying that removed officials would be barred from attending council meetings.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said on Wednesday that the government had “no legal basis at all” for the action.
Conceding that the party had “no power” to stop the move, Mr. Sovann appealed to the CPP to cast politics aside.
The councilors “have sons, they have daughters,” he said. “Some of them live on the salary.”
“Not everything is political. We are all Cambodians,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)