After repeatedly rejecting the opposition CNRP’s amended bylaws for the past two months, the Interior Ministry on Wednesday finally accepted the changes, though it has yet to sign off on the party’s new vice presidents.
“We officially accept it,” ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said. “We will now monitor whether they implement the bylaws that we have correctly.”
Interior Minister Sar Kheng had sent the CNRP’s executive committee chairman, Yim Sovann, a letter on Wednesday letting him know that the new bylaws had been received. But it failed to say whether they were approved.
The CNRP first amended its internal rules at a hastily convened party congress on March 2 to deal with the sudden resignation of President Sam Rainsy on February 11, who stepped down in the face of new legislation that threatened to dissolve the whole party over his criminal convictions, which many consider politically motivated.
At the congress, the CNRP amended its bylaws to change its rules on leadership selection and immediately elevated Vice President Kem Sokha to president. It also voted in three new vice presidents to replace him—Pol Ham, Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang.
But the Interior Ministry soon deemed the amendments illegal and the new deputies illegitimate. It argued that the party should have submitted the amendments to the ministry first and then voted in the deputies, even though no such timetable is spelled out in any law.
With little choice but to appease the ministry, the CNRP tried amending its bylaws twice more, most recently on April 25. The third time has proved the charm.
But General Sopheak said on Wednesday that the ministry had yet to recognize the three new CNRP deputies.
“That has not been officially recognized, not yet,” he said. “They did not request that we recognize their three vice presidents.”
Ms. Sochua, one of the three, said the party would convene soon after Mr. Sokha returns from a fundraising trip overseas on the 15th—it has yet to set a date—to nominate the same trio again and resubmit the names to the ministry.
“We will renominate the same candidates that will be chosen by the board,” she said. “They have to be elected.”
The controversy over the amendments raised fears among opposition supporters and election observers that the CNRP’s inability to get its new bylaws and leaders recognized could jeopardize its standing in the fast-approaching June 4 commune elections. But the National Election Committee said in late March that its commune candidates would be allowed to run regardless.
Some speculated that the ruling CPP has been trying to tie up its main rival to distract it from preparing for election day.
But Ms. Sochua insisted that the CNRP had remained focused throughout.
“We have never stopped our work; we are completely focused,” she said. “We know very well what we need to do until not just the commune elections, but the national elections in 2018. We concentrate on what we need to do.”