The Khmer National United Party has elected a new acting president following the resignation of Nhek Bunchhay, who remains imprisoned over drug production charges.
Mr Bunchhay, formerly the deputy commander in chief in the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government and most recently an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, recently had his home raided and was formally charged with conspiring to produce drugs in a case dating back to 2007.
Mr Bunchhay’s fortunes began to change in June, when Mr Hun Sen learned of a phone call he made to the opposition CNRP prior to the commune elections, in which he allegedly promised supporters of his fledgling Khmer National United Party would casts votes for the CNRP.
This led to the Prime Minister stripping Mr Bunchhay of his advisor role, and then a purging of nearly 20 KNUP officials from government posts.
While imprisoned, Mr Bunchhay resigned as KNUP president and asked his party members to lead the party according to democratic decisions.
KNUP spokesman Run Meatra said that the party elected Soeung Kiri, the party leader in Banteay Meanchey province, as acting president.
Mr Kiri said his first priority will be to review the structure of the party.
“We have to do internal work first on how many party members have defected to other parties,” he said. “Then I can start working on restructuring the party.”
Mr Kiri added that Mr Bunchhay’s legal problems will not affect the status of the KNUP because he no longer leads it.
“I am not worried about the party being dissolved because his case is an individual case, it is not linked to the party,” he said.
According to recent political party law amendments, a political party cannot be led by anyone with a criminal record, nor affiliate with convicts. Doing so would risk the dissolution of the party.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said the KNUP is not on his radar.
“I did not get any information about the KNUP,” he said. “So I cannot comment about the party being dissolved or not.”
Mr Bunchhay issued a resignation and letter of apology on August 16 from prison, apologizing for the harm his actions had brought upon the KNUP and also apologizing to the Prime Minister.
“I would respectfully like to express, with honesty and dedication, all the mistakes incorrectly committed against Samdech Hun Sen, president of the CPP, which have as a consequence damaged the interests of the KNUP,” he said.