Opposition party leaders are holding on to the small hope that Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni will grant their request to pardon rights activists and political officials who have been the subject of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s legal campaigns.
“We wrote a letter to the king because we fully support and follow the king’s advice in his Oct. 7 letter calling the two parties to work together to solve the national issues for and reconciliation in the country,” Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service during a TV broadcast on Thursday.
“The king’s letter reflected the will of the Cambodian people,” he said.
Sam Rainsy and CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha both signed onto the latest letter that is part of a flurry of correspondence between Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP leaders.
In Sihamoni’s Oct. 7 letter he urged the two political parties to work together after the CNRP decided to extend its boycott of Cambodia’s National Assembly.
Sihamoni forwarded the CNRP’s request for consideration by the Cambodian government that is dominated by Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The prime minister urged rejection of the request.
“Who acts against the law is responsible for the acting against the law,” Hun Sen responded in his own missive. “Strict implementation of the law is the key to helping Cambodia to thrive and proceed with multi-party democracy.”
Sam Rainsy told RFA that the decision was up to the Sihamoni and not Hun Sen.
“Kem Sokha and I wrote the letter to the king, and only for the king,” he said. “If there is anyone who comes out and gives a response before the King, as if to represent the king, that person is humiliating and devaluing the king.”
The law and the reality
While Hun Sen wants Sihamoni to reject the request, Cambodian constitutional scholars say the king has the sole power to decide the amnesty question.
Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), said Article 27 of the constitution gives the king the unconditional right to grant amnesty.
“In the constitution, it did not state that there should be any agreement from anyone,” he told RFA. “If he [the King] can grant the amnesty only with someone’s approval, then who is the person granting the amnesty?”
Political science scholar Heng Sreang gave a similar answer, but said that in reality the king’s amnesty has always been initiated by the prime minister.
“In the constitution, the King does not need to consult with anyone or the Prime Minister,” he said. “The King can use his royal role and responsibilities to consider [the amnesty]. By reading that letter, it seems that he asked the prime minister to kindly consider it.
Heng Sreang cast doubt that the CNRP’s slim hopes will become a reality anytime soon.
“As long as the CNRP and the ruling party do not have trust in each other, there is no hope that there will be [amnesty] consideration from the king,” he said.
As of Thursday, there is no official decision from the king on the issue.
The CNRP wants the amnesty because several of the party’s top officials including Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have been convicted by Cambodia’s courts of different crimes.
While they face arrest, the convictions are seen by observers inside and outside the country as part of Hun Sen’s effort to weaken his strongest opposition before the upcoming Cambodian elections.
Local elections are set for 2017 and national elections are scheduled for 2018.
Of pardons past
In 2013, King Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Sam Rainsy. At the time Hun Sen had signed off on the Royal Pardon, which absolved Sam Rainsy of defamation charges, allowing him to return to Cambodia without being put in jail.
Even though he was ineligible for candidacy in the 2013 general election, thousands of his supporters thronged the streets when he returned.
The CNRP gained 55 seats in the National Assembly in that election, but the party and international observers found evidence of fraud and the CNRP boycotted parliament from September 2013 until July 2014.
In November 2015, Sam Rainsy was again removed from parliament by the ruling CPP when a warrant was issued for his arrest after being convicted of defaming former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong with the claim that the CPP politician ran a prison in the 1970s for the bloody Khmer Rouge regime.
Kem Sokha has been acting president of the CNRP since that time, but he has been under virtual house arrest since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.
On Sept. 9 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that Kem Sokha was guilty of refusing to appear for questioning in a prostitution case against him that is largely seen as politically motivated.
Reported by Heng Sun for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.