Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Sar Sokha on Saturday accused the opposition party of playing politics with public sector wage increases – a potent vote-getting issue, originally championed by the Cambodia National Rescue Party, that the CPP appears keen to wrest from the opposition as elections approach.
In a Facebook post, Sokha – the son of Interior Minister Sar Kheng – equated the opposition party’s abstention from the vote on the 2017 budget to not supporting pay raises for civil servants, saying the CNRP was “afraid” to support any government decision for fear of upsetting their base.
“Not supporting the amendment for the national budget for the CNRP is equal to not wanting to increase salaries for civil servants,” Sokha, a lawmaker for Prey Veng, wrote.
“It was just beating the political drum, because in the 2017 budget, the government has increased bonuses and salaries for civil servants.”
The remarks were quickly slammed by senior CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who said the party’s decision to abstain from voting to approve the budget at the National Assembly last week was intended to express its concern over irregularities and a lack of transparency.
“I think he is manipulating the facts,” Chhay said.
“We raised questions about the lack of effort to increase revenues because we have concerns that revenues have been embezzled or pocketed by government officials, and then we also raised concerns about misspending. We clearly stated in the debate that we believe our civil servants should have more salary.”
Promises to boost civil servants’ pay were a core plank in the opposition party’s platform prior to the last national election, which saw the CNRP make huge inroads, leaving the ruling party only a thin majority.
Following the opposition’s surprise surge, the CPP has moved to shore up its support in the civil service, police and military, vowing to lift public wages to a minimum $250 by 2018, when the country will hold its next national elections.
Son Chhay said the party would again push for public wage increases and would release its own proposal soon.
Analyst Ou Virak said the CPP’s policy to regain a “core voting bloc” could likely sway civil servants back into their camp, though the CPP’s willingness to take up what had been a pet opposition issue, at the very least, showed the benefits of competition between the two parties.
“These kind of populist promises do have some traction,” he said. “Will it be enough? I think it could be enough – it will definitely woo a lot more people at the 2018 election, and it’s a good sign, a sign that they’re responding.”
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton