Acting opposition leader Kem Sokha on Saturday claimed responsibility for several government initiatives, including the scrapping of the toll on National Road 4 and pay increases for civil society, saying the ruling CPP had co-opted its ideas.
Speaking to Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters in Kampong Speu province, Sokha said that his party was gaining more relevance – both nationally and internationally – and with that comes greater political sway.
“If there were no forces joining to create a very strong Cambodia National Rescue Party today maybe National Road 4 would still charge [people],” Sokha said.
The acting party president went on to say he welcomed the government’s efforts to reform, but maintained that they had been sparked by his party.
“Salaries of civil servants, and some other affairs of the nation – even though the [CNRP] has not yet gone on to lead the country, [the CPP] are taking it into consideration when before, they had never thought of it at all,” he added.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last month abruptly scrapped the toll fees on National Road 4, cancelling a controversial contract with a politically connected company called AZ Distribution Co, a deal the opposition had criticised for its lack of transparency.
In October 2014, the government pledged to raise civil servants salaries to $250 by 2018, the same amount that the opposition campaigned on during the 2013 elections. Since then, the government has made incremental increases towards that figure.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed Sokha’s claims yesterday, saying that the opposition leader was attempting to hijack the achievements of the ruling party and “deceive” voters.
“Increasing salaries for civil servants and the armed forces, the royal government had already planned it, but [we] do it step by step,” he said.
According to Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, the opposition was “trying to steal Hun Sen’s thunder” and keep the momentum going after its unprecedented gains in the 2013 election, which the CPP won by a relatively narrow margin.
“In response to that shock, the [CPP] has adopted almost directly a whole host of promises the opposition made in their election campaign,” he said.
The CNRP had provided a greater check on the government’s patronage system, Strangio added, but “discontent is deep” among voters, and it was too early to tell how civil society pay increases or toll cancellations would play with voters in the next election, regardless of which party was able to claim credit.
Additional reporting Daniel de Carteret