Opposition commune chief Seang Chet, recently freed from prison, looks set to lose his position next year as he was unable to register as a voter while behind bars and therefore cannot stand as a candidate in local elections.
The local official returned to work yesterday in Kampong Cham province, just under a week since his five-year conviction for “bribing” the purported mistress of Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha was absolved by royal decree.
The 44-year-old’s release came on the back of an apparent political deal between the CNRP and ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The agreement – which began with Sokha’s pardon for a five-month sentence linked to a related “prostitution” case – looks set to end a raft of cases linked to Sokha’s affair, which were widely considered politically motivated.
But while he is now free, it appears Seang has been robbed of the chance to continue next year as chief of Srok commune, where he is widely popular, according to interviews with local villagers this year. Under the Election Law, only registered voters can contest seats. Chet’s six-month detention meant he missed the National Election Committee’s recent three-month registration drive, which ended last month.
Speaking yesterday, the Sam Rainsy Party member – who is also demanding the court return $75 and three mobile phones seized during his arrest – appealed to both parties for help. “I hope that both parties discuss and request that the NEC register my name in the competition in 2017 or else I cannot be a commune chief candidate,” he said yesterday.
Though CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the party would “examine” Chet’s request, officials yesterday effectively dismissed the possibility. National Assembly secretary-general Leng Peng Long said any “special procedures” to extend the registration would require the Election Law to be changed, noting that no amendments had yet been submitted to the parliament.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said, as it stood now, there was no possibility for Chet to enrol for the 2017 poll, though he could register in 2018 when the body prepares voter lists for the national ballot. “If the assembly changes the law, the NEC will change accordingly . . . but it is hard to make an amendment because of one person,” Puthea said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan agreed, saying the law could not be changed for a single case. “The amendment is based on the special condition of each case, but for Seang Chet, I think that the possibility is very small or impossible,” he said.