The National Election Committee (NEC) won’t stop CNRP candidates from running in June’s commune elections, even if the Interior Ministry invalidates the party’s recent change in leadership, a spokesman said on Monday amid speculation from analysts that the government was seeking to bar the opposition from the ballot.
At the same time, however, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the party would be prevented from fielding candidates if the ministry took its case against the CNRP to the Supreme Court, and the court voted to dissolve the party.
“In summary, I want to say that NEC will keep CNRP’s candidates [listed] as usual,” Mr. Puthea said.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng issued a letter last week suggesting that the CNRP’s snap congress to select Kem Sokha as president earlier this month violated the party’s own internal rules, though the letter did not specify any consequences. At the time, ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that whether action was taken or not, it was not the ministry’s decision, but “the law,” though he declined to specify which law—if any—had been violated.
At the congress, the CNRP amended two bylaws, one of which revised the selection process to replace the president—in this case, Sam Rainsy—in the event of a resignation. Whereas the previous rule said the acting president would remain in that role if the party had less than 18 months before its next party congress, the changed bylaw says that the oldest deputy president would immediately assume permanent presidency.
General Sopheak, the Interior Ministry spokesman, could not be reached for comment on Monday. But on Saturday, he told Radio Free Asia that the government would not recognize Mr. Sokha’s position, encouraging the CNRP to take its case to the courts if it objected.
“The only arbiter is the Supreme Court,” he said.
Representatives from the ministry and CNRP are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the impasse.
According to the hastily-passed amendments to the Law on Political Parties—branded by critics as the “final blow” to democracy in Cambodia—the ministry can suspend parties found to violate the law and file a complaint to the Supreme Court asking it to dissolve the party “if the complaint is serious.”
Mr. Puthea said the NEC would reconsider the CNRP’s ability to field commune election candidates if the Interior Ministry moved to ask the courts to dissolve the party.
“But in this case, the Interior Ministry did not dissolve the party, they just checked the party’s bylaws kept at the ministry,” he said. “If, for example, Kem Sokha is not recognized as president, the NEC will use his previous position as deputy president or acting president to represent his party instead.”