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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Illiterate’ chief sees scrutiny after stumbling during swearing in

Jarai commune chief, Klan Fes speaks at the inauguration event on Friday in Ratanakkiri province.
Jarai commune chief, Klan Fes speaks at the inauguration event on Friday in Ratanakkiri province. Fresh News

‘Illiterate’ chief sees scrutiny after stumbling during swearing in

An ethnic Jarai opposition commune chief in Ratanakkiri province’s Som Thom commune is facing ridicule online and potential scrutiny from the Interior Ministry after fumbling with the Khmer language during his inauguration ceremony.

Video depicting Klan Fes’s swearing in on July 5 appears to show him struggling to read a Khmer text.

National Election Committee spokesman Khan Keo expressed concern over Fes’s apparent Khmer illiteracy, pointing to a chapter in Article 35 of Cambodia’s Commune Election Law that requires candidates to be able to read and write Khmer. “The candidate registration is determined by the ability to read and write Khmer,” he said.

CNRP Deputy Director Eng Chhay Eang defended the selection of Fes, saying the CNRP selected a Jarai candidate to please the commune’s largely uneducated indigenous population. “[A] bachelor’s [degree] and PhD holder would not be elected as the commune chief,” he said.

Fes insisted he can read and write “a little” Khmer but stumbled out of anxiety over O’Yadav District Governor Ma Vichet’s response to his speech, which came beforehand.

“When I finished [a run-through of] my speech, the district governor said: ‘You want to develop the commune; where will you get the money from?’” said Fes. “At the time, I was so scared.”

Cambodia has struggled to foster Khmer-language literacy among the nation’s ethnic minority groups, and Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association President Ngach Samin said he found mockery of Fes over social media unfair.

“The organisers should have arranged translation and let him have the right to make a commitment about taking control of his village or commune in [the] Jarai language.”

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