Legal Threat Hangs Over Rong Chhun Party Role

Rong Chhun, an advisor of the Nation Power Party, during the party's congress meeting on Nov. 12. Photo: Sun Chanthy

PHNOM PENH – The Interior Ministry says appointing former Candlelight Party (CP) vice-president Rong Chhun as an advisor to the Nation Power Party (NPP) is against the law, given that Chhun has not yet fully recovered the rights to political activity after a court conviction.

Chhun left the CP to join the NPP on Nov. 9, seeking what he called a move towards true democracy for elections in 2027 and 2028.

The NPP held a congress on Nov. 12, appointing Sun Chanthy as the president, Chea Mony as a vice president and Rong Chhun as an advisor. 

On July 31, 2020, Rong Chhunat was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on charges of committing acts of incitement to cause serious social unrest. 

This followed his comments about the Cambodia-Vietnam border and alleged border infringement by Vietnam. He was sentenced in August 2021 to two years jail. 

In November of that year, the Appeal Court reduced his sentence to 15 months with the remainer suspended for three years with probation. He was 

released from jail on bail.

Interior Ministry deputy spokesperson Touch Sokhak said the NPP decision to give him a party role was against the Law on Political Parties.

According to Article 18, party presidents and vice presidents and members of the board of directors or standing committee or equivalent must not be convicted of a felony or misdemeanor without parole.

Touch Sokhak said Rong Chhun is serving his sentence and does not have sufficient rights to take part in politics, even to act in or lead any party.

“So, Rong Chhun and the party should consider the law so that there will be no consequences, such as objections or lawsuits to dissolve the party,” he said. 

Sokhak said that his comments are not a political message intended to hinder politics, but it is an aspect of the law.

Rong Chhun said he is not concerned about the matter, saying the role of advisor is not covered by the ban.

Chhun said that his bail conditions were to cooperate with judges and prosecutors, especially to notify the court or the authorities when moving, and to travel abroad with the permission of the court.

“The court has not banned me from doing politics,” he said.

Sun Chanthy said the Ministry of Interior had recognized Rong Chhun as CP vice president but now the ministry was saying otherwise. Rong Chhun was not in a position prohibited by the law, he said.

On May 8, Justice Minister Keut Rith said Rong Chhun had not fully regained his legal status as it had been less than five years from the start of his sentence. He said Chhun also did not meet the conditions to apply to the court for the capacity to take part in politics.

According to the Criminal Procedure Code, rehabilitation is decided by the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal.

The chamber may decide on a request for rehabilitation only after three years from the start of the sentence have expired.

Full rehabilitation shall be re-established five years after sentencing. 

However, NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said Rong Chhun can still serve as an NPP advisor.

He said Rong Chhun could not take part in political activities in public, including activities that the court has banned.

However, Rong Chhun could carry out political activities within the party, such as the election of advisers. 

The NPP must report those activities to the Interior Ministry for review and evaluation, Puthea said.

Further action should be taken to measure Chhun’s political activities outside the party, he said.


Teng Yalirozy contributed to the story

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