The prosecution on Wednesday questioned opposition leader Kem Sokha, on trial for treason, about vote monitoring in the 2013 national election.
Reports of irregularities during the vote that year — which saw the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP go neck-and-neck — fueled large public demonstrations in the election’s aftermath. Along with the charge of treason, Sokha is also accused of conspiring with foreigners to overthrow the government.
During Wednesday’s hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, prosecutor Chhay Hong asked whether the parties that had merged to form the CNRP — the Sam Rainsy Party and Sokha’s Human Rights Party — deployed observers on election day in 2013.
Sokha stood up to say he couldn’t remember.
The answer was a common refrain during the early stages of the trial two years ago, when Sokha repeatedly said he could not remember his past activities.
Hong and fellow prosecutor Plang Sophal on Wednesday questioned why the old parties continued to be used after the merger. They also asked details about the placement of election observers and strategies.
Sokha complained that the questions were repetitive and technical, and requested the court to ask the National Election Committee instead. As tensions rose, presiding judge Koy Sao said the court would seek clarification from the NEC.
The defense argued that irregularities had been found not only by political parties but also by civil society organizations. Defense lawyer Pheng Heng also questioned after the hearing why the trial was focusing on the election.
In 2013, the CNRP alleged that 1.2 to 1.3 million people had been unable to vote because their names were not on the list at polling places, and there were about 1 million ghost names and 200,000 duplicate names. This led to large demonstrations of tens of thousands of people in Phnom Penh that dovetailed with garment factory workers rallying for a higher minimum wage.
Sokha’s next trial hearing has been scheduled for April 20.