With Sokha Traveling, Bylaw Dispute Leaves CNRP Leaderless

The Interior Ministry declined once again on Thursday to advise the CNRP on how to overcome its Wednesday decision not to recognize its three deputy presidents, leaving the party without an acting leader while permanent President Kem Sokha makes a foreign fundraising trip.

“We are not the CNRP’s adviser,” said ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Thursday. “We are also not the leaders of the CNRP.”

cam photo cnrp KHMER
CNRP President Kem Sokha, center, arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport Wednesday on his way to New Zealand and Australia for a 10-day fundraising trip, in a photo posted to his Facebook page.

For the past few weeks, the ministry and opposition party have gone back and forth over the CNRP’s selection of new leadership after the February resignation of former party President Sam Rainsy.

The government has repeatedly claimed the party has failed to comply with its own bylaws, while the opposition claims it is being harassed ahead of June 4 commune elections.

On Wednesday, the ministry said it would recognize Mr. Sokha as president, but not his three deputies, declining then and now to say what the opposition could to do to rectify the situation.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Thursday downplayed the impact on the election of not having official recognition for its vice presidents.

“We think it will not affect things, because we lead the party with mechanisms, even if we don’t have those positions,” Mr. Sovann said, adding that the deputy presidents would continue performing their roles internally.

The ministry should find better uses for its time, he added.

“The Interior Ministry has a lot of work to do, for example on illegal immigration and the drug crime that is harming in our country,” he said. “So I think their interference into the opposition party is not an important thing for the ministry to do.”

With Mr. Sokha travelling to Australia and New Zealand to meet with parliamentarians and raise funds on a 10-day outing that began on Wednesday, Mr. Sovann seemed helpless to counter the government’s move.

“If the Interior Ministry won’t recognize us, please tell us, what should we do?” he asked.

General Sopheak joked that he was flattered to be sought out for advice.

“Thank you very much for taking me into account,” he said, declining further comment.

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