A Ministry of Interior official yesterday confirmed that the CNRP’s most recent set of amendments to its bylaws had been officially accepted, freeing up the party to reinstate three deputy presidents whose status had been challenged, and seemingly bringing an end to what had become a weeks-long bureaucratic obstacle course.
With commune elections now just weeks away, Interior Minister Sar Kheng sent a letter to CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann confirming that the latest version of the bylaws had been received by his officials. Prak Sam Oeun, director of the ministry’s Administration Department, confirmed in an interview that the ministry had approved and now recognises the latest statute as legitimate.
“This means that we have decided to already recognise it. If we did not recognise it, we would have told them if there was anything wrong,” he said.
Sovann said yesterday that the CNRP considered Kheng’s letter an official approval, given that the ministry said it had deposited the statute into its records.
However, the approval followed a tortured series of setbacks that at various points left some or all of the CNRP’s top leadership officially unrecognised for long stretches of time.
The deputy presidents – lawmakers Pol Ham, Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang were first selected on March 2, when former deputy Kem Sokha ascended to the party presidency after the resignation of ex-leader Sam Rainsy. Weeks later, however, the Ministry of Interior claimed their selections were illegitimate because they had breached a clause of the CNRP’s own bylaws – while ignoring that those bylaws had been amended at the very same congress.
The ministry later accepted the new bylaws, and Sokha’s new role as president but only after the CNRP withdrew a slogan that had displeased the ruling CPP by urging voters to “replace the commune chiefs who serve party”.
On the same day the offending slogan was dropped, April 2, the CNRP reaffirmed its support of the new leadership in a letter to the Interior Ministry.
However, in yet another reversal, the government then claimed that the deputies’ official selection date was now April 2, rendering it illegitimate as it fell outside of the party bylaws’ stipulated 30-day window for replacing leadership.
The CNRP amended its bylaws once again to remove the time limit on April 25. Now that those amendments have been accepted, the party must still renominate the three deputy president candidates.
Deputy-elect Eng Chhay Eang said yesterday that the party will try to get its central committee together as soon as possible to endorse the three deputies.
“We still have to choose the time because our leaders are in the grassroots [areas] or on missions,” he said. “
Political commentator Meas Ny said it was difficult to predict whether this would be the end of the CNRP’s troubles with the ministry, given that the latter had chosen to turn what should have been a small issue into a two-month-long slog.
“I think it was a political game to prevent the CNRP from focusing on the elections,” he said. “And the CNRP did not expect that the CPP will make this into an issue.”