Cambodia’s senior-most Islamic leader on Monday rejected deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s calls for the country’s village-level Islamic leaders to be elected, saying the issue was “none of his business.”
Mr. Sokha, speaking to a crowd of Cham Muslims in Tbong Khmum province on Sunday, said that the CNRP supported the wishes of some villagers for village-level Islamic leaders to be elected and not appointed, as happens currently.
Sos Kimri, Cambodia’s chief mufti and president of the Supreme Muslim Leaders, a group that claims to speak for all Chams, said that Mr. Sokha’s calls were unwarranted.
“He is a politician, so don’t ever speak or interfere in religion,” Mr. Kimri said. “Religious jurists have their own structure to do their work, so it’s none of his business.”
Mr. Sokha had said during his speech in Tbong Khmum that he was aware that some sectors of the Cham community in Cambodia wanted to be able to elect their village-level religious leaders, known as hakims.
“I have seen that Muslim Cambodian brothers and sisters today face a problem: the right to choose their leaders,” Mr. Sokha told the audience. “Most hakims are appointed by the party and government, and I think that is a problem that affects the rights of brothers and sisters,” he said.
“As hakims are appointed by the party, it makes it difficult for brothers and sisters to join other parties,” Mr. Sokha added. “We want people who belong to organized religions to choose their representatives and leaders.”
Sos Min, the mufti for Kompong Cham province’s Kroch Chhmar district, denied that the CPP selected hakims, and said that all Cham muftis in Cambodia were selected by Cham leaders.
“It is not true that muftis are appointed by parties, but we are part of the government structure and we use stamps authorized by the Interior Ministry,” Mr. Min said.
“Senior muftis are appointed by royal decree, with the signature of the king, and some levels of muftis are appointed by the senior leaders of the religion,” he explained. “Some people vote for hakims, and some hakims are appointed by the senior religious leaders.”
However, Ysa Nasiet, a 51-year-old Cham man from Kroch Chhmar’s Svay Khlaing village who said he supports Mr. Sokha’s calls, disputed Mr. Min’s claim.
“There are no elections to vote for hakims in villages across the country,” he said. “Hakims leading villages are appointed by muftis, who are CPP officials.”