The Interior Ministry inched closer to suspending or dissolving the CNRP on Thursday as it threatened to use the hastily passed Law on Political Parties against the opposition unless the CNRP took action—while refusing to specify what steps were required.
“I want to clarify that any further measures we take will be based on the Law on Political Parties,” said Bun Honn, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, at a news conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday. “We don’t need to say what we will do. The law says clearly what we could do and we will take that action.”
The newly amended party law, which sprinted through parliament despite an outcry from civil society, the CNRP, and, after the fact, the U.S., E.U. and most recently the U.N., allows the ministry to temporarily suspend any party, and petition the Supreme Court to dissolve it entirely in the event that the party’s infraction is “serious.”
The dispute centers on the ministry’s claim that the CNRP violated its own bylaws when it selected new leaders at a snap congress earlier this month.
At the congress, the opposition first amended its bylaws to change its process for selecting a new permanent president, then went on to elevate Kem Sokha to that role and elected three lawmakers as deputy presidents.
The ministry has been vague about what sections of the law the CNRP violated, but has suggested that the party should have submitted its bylaw changes to the government before changing leadership—a sequence that is not explicitly outlined in the law.
“The ministry cannot order the party to do this or do that. We just advise them to follow their party’s bylaw,” said Mr. Honn, the former president of the Bar Association of Cambodia.
“Whatever you want to do, it’s up to your own party’s procedures. But you must comply with the bylaws kept at the Interior Ministry,” he said, adding that the ministry did not recognize the CNRP’s revised set of bylaws.
Mr. Honn maintained that the ministry was not singling out the CNRP, saying that all parties needed to be aware of proper procedures.
“Don’t be confused and say that the ministry ordered you” to take action, he told the opposition. “We just informed you of the mistake. If you know the mistake, please change it using your internal rules.”
Asked whether that mistake would result in the dissolution of the CNRP, Mr. H0nn was equally coy.
“Whether to dissolve or not—we cannot tell you now,” he said.
Reached on Thursday, CNRP Vice President Mu Sochua referred to a statement the party put out summarizing their Wednesday meeting with the ministry, in which the government made many of the same points.
“We will find a suitable solution,” she said in an email.
Eng Chhay Eang, also a CNRP vice president, was more outspoken, saying that the party would not change its current leadership.
“Political parties are private organizations, not state institutions,” he said.
Prak Sam Oeun, director-general at the ministry’s general department of administration, denied any accusation that it had constrained the opposition party.
“We did not interfere like they said,” he said. “It is our legal duty that is required by the Law on Political Parties.”
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)
Correction: Earlier version of this article misspelled the name of undersecretary of state the Interior Ministry Bun Honn.