CNRP Lawmaker Refuses to Make Way for Imprisoned Colleague

CNRP lawmaker Yont Tharo said Monday that he would not vacate his parliamentary seat to make way for jailed opposition official Meach Sovannara, arguing that as the only Khmer Krom member of parliament he should remain to represent the minority group’s interests.

Following Mr. Sovannara’s arrest on November 11 on old charges of “insurrection,” CNRP President Sam Rainsy publicly suggested that Mr. Tharo could resign to allow the jailed official to take over his seat and the parliamentary immunity from prosecution it confers.

However, Mr. Tharo said Monday that as the only parliamentary voice for the Khmer Krom—the ethnic Khmer population who remain in former Cambodian provinces in southern Vietnam—he could not give up his seat for Mr. Sovannara.

“I will not resign to give him the post, since I’m the only Khmer Krom lawmaker elected to represent the Khmer Krom voice at the National Assembly,” Mr. Tharo said by telephone after visiting his colleague at Prey Sar prison.

“While I was meeting with him at the prison, we did not talk about this matter,” Mr. Tharo said.

“I was approached by His Excellency Sam Rainsy, who has asked me to resign, but I told him that I will not do it since the Khmer Krom people need my voice,” he said.

“Since then it’s been quiet and nobody has come to ask me about this issue anymore.”

Mr. Tharo served as a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker for Banteay Meanchey between 2008 and 2013. At the July 2013 national election, he was elected as a CNRP lawmaker for the province.

Mr. Sovannara was the CNRP’s third candidate and would automatically ascend to Mr. Tharo’s seat if he steps down.

Mr. Rainsy said Monday that aside from the benefits Mr. Tharo’s resignation could afford Mr. Sovannara, he also wanted the lawmaker to vacate his parliamentary seat because he has recently been suffering serious health problems.

“I hope that this issue will be solved anyway, but regarding Yont Tharo, we have to proceed slowly because he is in bad health; he has had a stroke and we don’t want to ask him brutally,” Mr. Rainsy said by telephone.

Mr. Rainsy said that Mr. Tharo’s health issues are too serious for him to continue working as a lawmaker, even after taking into account the fact that Mr. Tharo is the only Khmer Krom assemblyman.

Yet Mr. Tharo said he remains unmoved by the CNRP leader’s requests, and insists he is unimpeded in his duties.

“My health is good. I can go to the local villages, meet people and do my work at the National Assembly,” Mr. Tharo emphasized. “I do not have poor health.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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