Senior opposition lawmaker Son Chhay is pushing back against a recent proposal by a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to withhold National Assembly salaries for those who have migrated to the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Party.
In a letter sent to assembly president Heng Samrin last week, Chhay urged Samrin to talk some sense into ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who dreamed up the salary freeze on May 7, calling the idea an “abuse of the law” and “strange”.
Yeap, who also chairs the National Assembly Commission on Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit, threatened to take away the paychecks of 11 lawmakers who left the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties on April 7 to join the CNRP, a merger of the two opposition groups.
By jumping from one party to another, Yeap has reasoned, the lawmakers relinquish the right to their monthly income from the state of about $2,000.
Yeap did not cite a specific statute or internal rule when floating his proposal. But according to Cambodia’s election law, as long as assembly members make the switch within six months of the election – which is on July 28 – they cannot lose their seats in parliament unless they are voted out in the polls.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said there are existing disciplinary actions that could affect a lawmaker’s salary and position. But in this case, he said, the MPs have done nothing out of the ordinary that would lead to any sort of punishment.
“First, you’d have to remove them from membership,” Panha said. “If they are still members of parliament, how can you take away their salaries?”
Chheang Vun, assembly spokesman and a CPP legislator, slammed Chhay’s letter.
“Why does he order the parliament president? This is called insolence; he is a member of parliament, he has to respect the parliament president,” Vun said.
Vun said salaries have been frozen in the past – contrary to Chhay’s statements – and that Yeap’s proposal may come before an internal committee.
Additional Reporting by Joe Freeman