Sokha Leaves HQ for First Time in Months

Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha stepped out onto the streets of Phnom Penh for the first time in more than four months on Wednesday to register for next year’s commune elections, using the opportunity to call for a peaceful solution to ongoing political strife.

Mr. Sokha has been holed up in the opposition headquarters since May 26, when police attempted to arrest him after he failed to appear in court for questioning over his alleged mistress’ “prostitution” case, which is widely believed to be a political attack by the courts.

Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, left, walks across wooden planks above a flooded street in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Wednesday on his way to to register to vote. (Pring Samrang)
Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, left, walks across wooden planks above a flooded street in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Wednesday on his way to to register to vote. (Pring Samrang)

He was sentenced to five months in jail last month as a result of his refusal to be questioned, but remains free pending the appeal process, which his lawyers formally began on Wednesday.

Emerging from the CNRP headquarters just before 10 a.m., Mr. Sokha delivered a brief speech explaining his plan to register to vote in next year’s commune elections.

“It is my right as a Khmer citizen. I have an obligation to vote in the election to decide the destiny and future of our country and the Cambodian people,” Mr. Sokha announced to about 100 reporters and opposition supporters.

He then made his way through the media scrum and climbed into a waiting SUV before making his way along National Road 2 toward the registry office closest to the party’s headquarters, rooms borrowed from a church in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Leu commune.

Arriving about 10 minutes later, Mr. Sokha was helped across a makeshift walkway of wooden planks leading to the building due to the compound being heavily flooded, and made his way into the cramped registry room.

After election officials took his photograph, scanned his thumbprints and entered his personal information into the new electronic voter database, Mr. Sokha emerged beaming, held his registration slip aloft and headed back to the party’s headquarters, where he delivered his second speech of the day.

Kem Sokha thumbprints a form at a voter registration office in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Wednesday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)
Kem Sokha thumbprints a form at a voter registration office in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Wednesday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

“The CNRP wants the political environment to be normalized again, for the political environment to be equal for everyone, and to have an election that shows the will of the people,” he said.

“We have always wanted to find a solution to the political problem. We don’t want to have violence; we absolutely want to have a peaceful solution.”

After Mr. Sokha was convicted on September 9, the CNRP threatened mass demonstrations in response. However, with the military deployed around the party’s headquarters and Prime Minister Hun Sen vowing to “eliminate” anyone who dared to take to the streets, the opposition has recently taken a conciliatory tone.

After a meeting between CPP and CNRP lawmakers on the National Assembly’s permanent committee on Tuesday, opposition spokesman Yem Ponhearith said he was hopeful that the party would end its boycott of parliament and join a full session on Friday.

On Wednesday, Mr. Ponhearith told reporters that no decision had been made on whether the CNRP would end its boycott, adding that “the situation may be clearer” before the end of the week.

Sam Sokong, a lawyer for Mr. Sokha, said that an appeal against the five-month sentence handed down by the municipal court, which decided to prosecute Mr. Sokha despite his constitutional immunity as a parliamentarian, was filed on Wednesday morning.

“We think that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision was unjust, so we want the Appeal Court to help find justice,” Mr. Sokong said.

“If we do not appeal, the verdict will come into effect, so police will arrest him and put him in jail.”

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