A second opposition figure was granted a royal pardon on Wednesday in what could be a sign that relations between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodia National Rescue Party are warming.
King Norodom Sihamoni granted CNRP Commune Chief Seang Chet a pardon on Wednesday, springing him from a five-year prison sentence for giving $500 to the mother of hairdresser Khom Chandaraty, in what the government said was an attempt to keep the woman quiet about her alleged affair with CNRP leader Kem Sokha.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng announced Seang Chet’s pardon after a Cambodian National Assembly plenary meeting on Wednesday. While Sar Kheng said the local leader would be released on Wednesday, he had yet to be freed as of late in the afternoon.
On Friday, the king pardoned Kem Sokha, who was convicted of failing to appear in one of the cases related to the government’s probe into his alleged affair.
Both pardons came at the request of Hun Sen, and the moves by the prime minister and remarks by Sar Kheng raised hopes that four officials with the rights group Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and a National Election Committee official would also be released.
“Though I was not involved in this discussion, His Excellency Kem Sokha and Samdech Hun Sen were,” Sar Khen told reporters, using the honorifics for the two men. “So far as I know, before the end of December there will be a solution in the case involving the human rights workers and NEC deputy.”
Kem Sokha and several other members of the CNRP were also given permission to visit some of the jailed opposition activists.
On May 2, Cambodian authorities arrested Ny Sokha and fellow ADHOC staffers, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, as well as National Election Committee (NEC) Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya for allegedly attempting to pay hush money to Khom Chandaraty, Kem Sokha’s purported mistress.
Just last week Cambodia’s Supreme Court rejected an attempt to free the five, agreeing with government arguments that they need to remain in jail in order to prevent them from swaying possible witnesses and causing public unrest.
But that was before Hun Sen and CNRP leaders appear to have reached some accommodation. It’s unclear just what prompted the gestures of good will, but the prime minister appears to be more willing to work with Kem Sokha than with exiled CNRP President Sam Rainsy.
‘Roles or positions are nothing’
On Wednesday Hun Sen and Kem Sokha met privately for about an hour, and Kem Sokha then met with Sar Kheng.
During the plenary Hun Sen said that Kem Sokha is now his partner in Cambodia’s political dialogue and is the minority leader – a position that puts the two men on roughly equal footing under article 48 of assembly's by-laws.
“If Kem Sokha’s new position is not accepted, the only way to deal with this is to amend article 48 and remove all the roles in that article,” Hun Sen said.
Both Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy dismissed the squabbling over the titles, saying the two party leaders have the same goal.
“Roles or positions are nothing but means to bring us to our set objectives,” Kem Sokha said. “No matter how big the roles or positions are, if we stray from those objectives we will fail.”
Sam Rainsy agreed in a post on his Facebook page.
“Labels and titles are not important,” he wrote in the post. “What is important is one's integrity and dignity. I gladly accept everything if I can help rescue our country and make it prosperous.”
While hopes are being raised that some of the opposition figures currently imprisoned in Cambodia may be released, it is unclear if Sam Rainsy status will change as he is currently in exile and barred from entering the country.
‘Faithful to my motherland until the end of my life’
He has been convicted in two separate defamation cases and was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The cases against Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha and other opposition figures are viewed by many inside and outside the country as politically motivated.
Still, Sam Rainsy appears to be unbowed by the attacks,
“They chased me from the National Assembly; they lifted my parliamentary immunity; they sentenced me to prison terms; they issued an arrest warrant against me; they exiled me and blocked all possibilities for me to come back to my native country; they misinterpreted the Constitution and the National Assembly's rules any way they want,” he wrote in the post.
He added: “But I remain true to myself and will remain faithful to my motherland until the end of my life.”
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.