Cambodia’s National Election Committee on Monday rejected a request by opposition leader Sam Rainsy to register to vote and contest the country’s polls next week following his return from self-imposed exile to a rapturous welcome.
Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), wrote a letter to NEC President Im Suosdey on Sunday requesting that he be added to voter registration and candidate lists after receiving a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni for convictions he claims were politically motivated.
“Based on this request and the King’s amnesty dated July 12, I would like his Excellency to seek any the possibility of including my name on the official voting list and also include my name in the CNRP candidate list for the election dated July 28, 2013,” Sam Rainsy wrote in the letter, which was also copied to King Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The opposition leader had spent four years abroad to avoid jail time for the convictions, but returned last week to Phnom Penh after being granted amnesty by the King at Hun Sen’s request and was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters.
The NEC said on his return that he could not contest the elections because his name had been removed from the electoral register after he was sentenced in absentia and that the registration of candidates had long been closed.
The NEC responded to Sam Rainsy’s letter Monday with a refusal, reiterating that he had no right to vote in next week’s election, regardless of his royal pardon.
“This denial is in compliance with Election Law Article 49, which says that the registration list must be completed and approved between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 each year,” the response read.
“The NEC already approved the voting lists on Dec. 31 2012,” it said.
The NEC added that it would be unable to register Sam Rainsy to run for the CNRP because he had “failed to comply with conditions for the candidate lists,” because of his convictions at the time the list was approved.
Sam Rainsy said last week that he will not recognize any victory by Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) in the polls if he is barred from contesting the parliamentary elections, as he is the head of the main opposition party and a potential prime ministerial candidate.
The CPP, which has held power for 28 years and at present holds 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, is widely expected to sweep this month’s elections. The party won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.
Bound by law
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said that the election commission is legally bound to adhere to the existing voter and candidate lists, from which Sam Rainsy’s name was deleted.
“The NEC has complied with the law and can’t make any decision above the law,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“We have complied with the law and if we breach the law we will be prosecuted.”
But CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann called the denial “politically motivated” and urged the NEC to resolve Sam Rainsy’s request.
“Deleting Sam Rainsy’s name was a politically motivated act, but now the King has sorted everything out [by pardoning him], so the NEC must resolve this,” he told RFA.
Yim Sovann accused the NEC of lacking independence from the CPP and said the ruling party had pushed for Sam Rainsy to be out of the ballot, despite his royal pardon.
“The CPP was the mastermind and the NEC is an accomplice in this case,” he said.
“They must resolve this matter, otherwise the election will not be free and fair.”
Rights groups say Cambodia's electoral system is riddled with major problems, including issues over voter registration lists, the use of civil servants and army personnel to campaign for the CPP, government control of mass media to slant the news, and intimidation against opposition figures and civil society monitors.
Over the weekend, a gunshot was fired through the window of the CNRP office in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, and authorities have said they have no leads in the investigation, according to a report by the Phnom Penh Post.
Nobody was injured in the incident, which occurred at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, though a security guard and his son were in the building at the time.
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirt Chantharith told the Post that it was premature to claim the crime was politically motivated.
“Until we have something more, we cannot say,” he said.
Addressing the shooting on his first official campaign stop, Rainsy told supporters on Saturday in Kampong Speu that he condemns “all forms of threats.”
“They should respect the will of Khmer citizens who are peacefully respecting the law together by not secretly shooting, robbing, or causing any violence,” he said.
Reported by Den Ayuthya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.