NEC Official Says Opposition Assembly Swap Would Be Legal

National Election Committee (NEC) Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Wednesday that imprisoned CNRP official Meach Sovannara could be named as one of the opposition’s 55 lawmakers even though he stands charged with insurrection.

Mr. Sovannara was arrested earlier this month on charges laid by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over a violent July protest that has seen more than a dozen CNRP officials and members imprisoned, with all but three since released.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Friday that the CNRP would ask Yont Tharo, its second-listed lawmaker for Banteay Meanchey province, to make way for Mr. Sovannara, who was the unsuccessful third-listed candidate at last year’s election.

Mr. Rainsy said that the switch would grant Mr. Sovannara parliamentary immunity from prosecution and force the courts to order his release.

Mr. Nytha said that such a switch for Mr. Sovannara would be possible should Mr. Tharo resign.

The election law states that if a lawmaker “dies, resigns, or loses their parliamentary candidacy, the next candidate listed on the same party’s lists shall be declared elected as a parliamentary member of the concerned party,” he said.

But Mr. Nytha said that he could not comment on whether Mr. Sovannara would have to be released from prison to swear in as a lawmaker.

“Regarding the issue of immunity, that has nothing to do with the NEC,” he said. “But for Mr. Sovannara’s case, the court has not yet issued a final judgment so the swap is possible.”

Mr. Sovannara’s lawyer, Hem Socheat, said that if his client becomes a lawmaker, he would instantly gain immunity “and the court could not detain him in prison at all.”

Mr. Tharo could not be reached for comment. Mr. Rainsy said he had not yet directly asked Mr. Tharo to stand down.

“We don’t want to make him feel bad because he’s just had a stroke and he’s not very well,” Mr. Rainsy said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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