Cambodia’s government has no objections to the results of an extraordinary congress held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) earlier this month to appoint new leadership, the CNRP said Wednesday.
However, the country’s Ministry of Interior appeared to contradict the claim, saying the CNRP would be held to existing by-laws it was found in violation of last week and making no mention of the ministry’s stance on the March 2 extraordinary congress.
In a statement released after a meeting between CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang and director-general of the Ministry of Interior Prak Sam Oeun, the opposition party said the ministry “acknowledges the process of the CNRP extraordinary congress” and “does not object to the amendment of articles 45 and 47 of the CNRP’s statute.”
Regarding any other issues of contention between the opposition party and the Ministry of Interior, “the CNRP will find an appropriate solution,” the statement said.
The CNRP convened its extraordinary congress to amend articles 45 and 47 of its party by-laws—removing an 18-month moratorium on appointing a new president and changing the structure of the party’s leadership. The congress also saw Kem Sokha named president, while Mu Sochua, Pol Ham and Eng Chhay Eang were made party deputies.
On March 22, the Ministry of Interior ruled in a letter to the CNRP that the party had violated its own by-laws by holding the congress and appointing Kem Sokha, based on documents filed at the CNRP’s launch in May 2013. The announcement threw the CNRP’s political legitimacy into question ahead of local commune elections in June.
Opposition officials contend that the CNRP was compelled to convene the congress and amend its statute before a new ruling party-initiated law on political parties went into effect, or risk being dissolved, because the law only provided it with 90 days to elect new leadership.
Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy resigned on Feb. 11 in order to preserve the party in the face of the new law that also bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, among other changes.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Eng Chhai Eang told reporters that the Ministry of Interior had urged the CNRP to comply with last week’s letter, informing the party that it had violated its by-laws.
The letter also called on the CNRP to dump its campaign slogan of “replace the commune chiefs who serve the party with commune chiefs who serve the people,” saying the phrase goes against election laws and the spirit of democracy. The CNRP has said it won’t modify the motto and will permit party activists to use it while campaigning for commune elections slated for June 4.
Eng Chhai Eang said no further meetings will be held between the Ministry of Interior and the CNRP regarding the results of the opposition’s extraordinary congress.
Demand for compliance
Statements by the CNRP appeared to contradict those made by Prak Sam Oeun while speaking with the media outside the Ministry of Interior at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting.
The director-general told reporters that the ministry will be “keeping an eye on the CNRP” to ensure the party’s compliance with its by-laws and made no mention of its stance on the opposition’s extraordinary congress or amendments to articles 45 and 47.
“We are certainly guided by the laws and there are steps to address this issue,” Prak Sam Oeun said.
“The CNRP’s statute is kept at the Ministry of Interior. We have notified the CNRP to correct it. If they ignore [such notifications] there shall be consequences.”
He did not elaborate on what was discussed at the meeting or what consequences the opposition party might face if found to have disregarded the ministry’s letter of last week.
CNRP officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent the opposition from standing in the June elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of the political party law.
The CPP won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.
Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in the June polls—a race that many believe may foreshadow the general election in 2018.
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.