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In ongoing row, gov’t OKs Sokha, but not deputies

Opposition leader Kem Sokha arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday. Facebook
Opposition leader Kem Sokha arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday. Facebook

In ongoing row, gov’t OKs Sokha, but not deputies

In yet another twist in the ongoing row over the CNRP’s leadership, the Interior Ministry has recognised Kem Sokha as the party’s president – but deemed its three deputy leaders still illegitimate.

In a letter addressed to Sokha yesterday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the ministry recognised him as the Cambodia National Rescue Party leader but said the elevation of lawmakers Pol Ham, Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang as his vice presidents still fell afoul of the opposition’s internal bylaws.

Analysts have suggested that the lengthy back and forth over the leadership was an effort to entangle the CNRP in red tape, and yesterday’s letter appeared to do little to discourage that interpretation. The problem, the letter maintains, is the date.

The three were initially tapped for the deputy positions at an extraordinary congress on March 2, when the party also first elevated Sokha to replace former president Sam Rainsy, who stepped down on February 11 after controversial new laws passed by the ruling party opened the possibility of his many seemingly politically motivated convictions being used to dissolve the opposition.

The Interior Ministry, for weeks after the congress, refused to recognise the new leadership, claiming their selection violated an old party bylaw that required an 18 month wait before a president was replaced. That statute was changed at the CNRP’s congress before the leadership vote, but the ministry initially declined to recognise it.

That issue was thought cleared up after the opposition, on April 2, officially renounced a campaign slogan that had irked the ruling party and, in a separate letter the same day, reaffirmed their support for Sokha and the others as president and deputy presidents.

Now, however, the Interior Ministry says it considers the official date of their selection to be April 2, which, Kheng noted, falls outside the 30-day window to select new leaders mandated in the new version Article 47 of the party’s bylaws – the same article under whose previous iteration the ministry accused the CNRP of acting too hastily.

Kheng’s letter yesterday acknowledged the deletion of the slogan from the opposition’s official campaign platform but offered no path to a resolution regarding the party’s deputies, only to say Sokha should handle it appropriately.

Reached yesterday, deputy president-elect Chhay Eang said he was happy Sokha had got the green light but urged the ministry to specify what steps it must take to have its deputies recognised.

“Mr Sam Rainsy resigned on February 11 and we arranged the president and deputy presidents of our party on March 2, which was not more than one month,” he said. “According to our understanding we did it correctly but if the Interior Ministry thinks that we did incorrectly, please tell us what the right way is.”

Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to elaborate on how the opposition could overcome the latest bureaucratic barrier. “[Sokha’s] election is still OK, it’s just his deputy presidents are not in accord with the statutes,” Sopheak said. “Let him think about it by himself.”

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