Opposition lawmakers yesterday left a meeting at the Interior Ministry exasperated, as officials from the latter continued to deem the presidency of their leader, Kem Sokha, and the vice presidency of three senior lawmakers, illegitimate, but offered no clear path to a resolution.
The talks, which lasted an hour and a half, sought to address a ruling by the ministry last week that the CNRP’s congress on March 2, which elevated Sokha to the top job and named Pol Ham, Mu Sochua, and Eng Chhay Eang as deputies, was against an older set of the party’s bylaws and therefore invalid.
The ruling initially left the CNRP’s participation in the upcoming commune elections up in the air. However, reached yesterday, National Election Committee spokesman Hang Puthea said that even if Kem Sokha is only considered the “acting president” their candidate lists would remain valid.
Interior officials also used the talks to ask the opposition to change its unofficial slogan, with which they have taken issue.
After the meeting, director- general of the Interior Ministry Prak Sam Oeun said the body still did not recognise the CNRP leadership.
Sam Oeun urged the opposition to “do correctly” and “take a look into the [old] statute and [then] hold an extraordinary congress”. His request, however, ignores the fact that the CNRP did acknowledge the statute, specifically Article 47 which stipulated the party should wait 18 months to select a new leader.
The party had voted to change it before electing their new leadership at the congress, which was held following the resignation of former party president Sam Rainsy in February. They also submitted the changes to the Interior Ministry, as per procedure.
These points were not addressed by Sam Oeun yesterday, despite questions from reporters, nor was the fact that the recently approved Law on Political Parties stipulates parties shall replace leaders within 90 days after their resignation.
Despite his lack of explanation on how exactly the CNRP could move forward, Sam Ouen said his ministry had displayed flexibility in meeting with the opposition.
He also seemed to suggest the purported infraction would be forgotten if the CNRP abandoned what has become a popular, albeit unofficial, call for voters to replace commune chiefs who “serve the party” with ones who “serve the people”.
“If the CNRP enforces according to the letter of the Interior Ministry … and changes the slogan [the problem] is finished,” Sam Ouen said, adding the ministry would “take measures” if the CNRP failed to comply, while offering no further information.
After the meeting, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhay Eang called the meeting unproductive but said the CNRP would attempt to follow the Interior Ministry’s ruling. “Just now we asked the Ministry of Interior to confirm on what point are we wrong and to help and tell us how to comply accordingly,” he said.
“The Interior Ministry is in charge of political parties … They must be clear. We asked them to clarify but … they said ‘let us take a look at the letter’,” he said, referring to last week’s statement by the ministry declaring the CNRP had “violated” its own rules.