Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy accused Cambodia’s election officials on Wednesday of practicing double standards by barring him from the electoral process on the grounds of his criminal conviction while including others with more notorious criminal records.
Sam Rainsy’s National Rescue Party (NRP) said the National Election Committee’s decision to remove him as a voter and disallow him from standing as a candidate in next year’s general election was part of a plan to secure the vote for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party.
The decision was made earlier this month on the grounds that the NRP president has been convicted—on charges he denies and says are politically motivated—for incitement and damaging property while leading a 2009 Vietnam border protest, among other crimes.
Sam Rainsy said that according to an investigation conducted by his party, others convicted of crimes, including prominent criminals, have not faced the same restrictions.
For example, a former police chief serving a 103-year prison sentence following convictions for murder and kidnapping is on the voters’ list, according to the NRP.
“My case is unique. The National Election Committee never deletes any criminals’ names, only mine,” Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer service, speaking from Cote D’Ivoire where he is attending an NRP meeting.
“This is a set-up for only me. This is not about the law because the law would apply to people equally,” he said. “This is just a joke.”
On Hun Sen's orders
The National Election Committee removed Sam Rainsy’s name from the lists on Nov. 5, and an appeal against the decision was rejected by the Constitutional Council last week.
NRP leaders issued a statement on the party’s investigation saying that Sam Rainsy had been singled out by the election committee on the orders of Hun Sen, whose Cambodian People’s Party has swept elections for years.
“Hun Sen is trying, by eliminating Sam Rainsy from the political scene … to unfairly secure another victory at next year’s elections in order to cling on to power for at least another five-year term,” the statement said.
The statement by the party, which was formed this year as a coalition between the country’s two largest opposition parties to challenge the Cambodian People’s Party, accused Hun Sen of trying to avoid a “fair fight” in the July 2013 election.
Sam Rainsy, who is living in exile in Paris and has vowed to return to Cambodia to run against Hun Sen, said he still has hope that he will be able to participate in the election.
“We have eight months; we have time,” he said.
He faces up to 11 years in prison if he returns to Cambodia, for damaging property during the Vietnam border protest and various other offenses.
Earlier this month, he filed an appeal against the sentence, which he received in absentia.
Even if he gets the conviction overturned or receives a royal pardon between now and the national election, he still may not be able to participate in the vote if he is not on the voters’ list.
But the voter registration period for the election has already passed, having ended on Oct. 12.
Under Cambodian law, a person who is not registered to vote is also not allowed to stand as a candidate.
Criminals on voter lists
According to the NRP, Sam Rainsy’s name had been removed from the voters’ list even though there is no provision in Cambodia’s election law that says someone who has been convicted of a crime must have their names deleted from the list.
Among the well-known criminals who do appear on voter list, the party said, is Heng Pov, the former Phnom Penh police chief who is currently serving a 103-year prison sentence on charges including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and extortion.
Also on the lists are Pheng Kunthea Borey, the senate president’s former chief of protocol who is serving four years in jail for forgery and fraud, a former government bodyguard who is serving ten years, a former provincial prosecutor serving time for corruption, and other prominent criminals, according to the party’s investigation.
“These examples explain why, after its recent decision to remove Sam Rainsy's name from the voter list, the National Election Committee has been unable to respond to a question from the press and the civil society asking it to show other instances, if any, of a convict's name being deleted from the voter list,” the statement said.
Non-governmental organizations monitoring elections in Cambodia have said recent elections, including commune-level elections in June, have been marred by irregularities in voter lists.
Reported and translated by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.