Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Wednesday made a last-ditch appeal to a powerful constitutional panel to allow him to contest this weekend's elections, as his party and Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party both expressed confidence of victory in the polls.
With no breakthrough in his requests for election candidacy to the National Elections Committee (NEC) and the National Assembly, Sam Rainsy lodged an appeal to the Constitutional Council, the arbiter of the constitutionality of any laws that might be challenged, including the electoral laws.
In his letter to Constitutional Council President Ek Sam Ol, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party who won a surprise royal pardon last week for convictions widely seen as politically motivated said his rights as a lawmaker should be reinstated for him to be a voter and candidate in the July 28 elections.
The council had previously upheld the decision of the NEC, which manages and conducts elections in Cambodia, to delete Sam Rainsy’s name from the voting list after he was convicted and ordered jailed for 11 years for various offenses.
“I would like to inform his Excellency that the King has already pardoned me," Sam Rainsy wrote to Ek Sam Ol.
"So my case has changed. The decision of the Constitutional Council as well as the NEC [to delete my name as a voter] because of the prison term convictions must be amended to comply with my current status,” he said.
Sam Rainsy, who returned to Cambodia last week after a four-year self-imposed exile in France, said that if Prime Minister Hun Sen’s request to the King to pardon him was in the interest of national reconciliation, the elections should comply with democratic principles and enable the participation of all relevant parties.
“Therefore, I would like the Constitution Council to issue a decision allowing me to register to vote and be a lawmaker candidate,” he wrote.
The NEC had said on Monday that Sam Rainsy could not compete in the election despite the pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni, saying he would need to reregister as a voter and that the registration period has passed and he must wait for the next registration exercise at the end of the year.
In a fresh letter to NEC President Im Sousdey on Tuesday, Sam Rainsy said the royal pardon should reinstate his original registration without any need to reregister.
He also wrote a letter on Tuesday to National Assembly President Heng Samrin asking him to officially restore his parliamentary immunity, which was stripped from him in 2009 in a move that paved the way for his criminal convictions.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said Wednesday that the panel does not have time to re-examine Sam Rainsy's second request to be reinstated as a voter.
The opposition politician has warned of street protests if he is denied the right to contest the elections—a two-way contest between Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Sam Rainsy's CNRP.
The CPP, which holds 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities. The CNRP has only 29 seats in the current legislature.
While many expect the CPP to coast to victory in the polls considering its well-oiled election machinery, the CNRP believes it can cause a big upset by ousting Hun Sen's government.
“I have seen an increase of support [for the opposition party], much more than in 1993," CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said, referring to the year when the CPP lost the United Nations-organized elections.
"In a village where I campaigned, at least 80 to 90 percent of the villagers came out to show their support—even the CPP members. It is hard to say we will win fewer seats; we will win a lot."
Kem Sokha said that if public support is a yardstick, the CNRP could win a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
However, he hastened to add that "election irregularities" could reduce the CNRP's win to 65 seats in the National Assembly.
Cambodia's Social Affairs Minister Ith Samheng said the CPP would score a thumping victory but did not predict the number of seats it would capture.
The NEC has said that 26,000 observers, including 70 from neighboring Southeast Asian countries and Europe, have registered to monitor the elections.
Some nongovernmental groups have expressed concern over violence and alleged government intimidation in the run-up to polling day.
On Wednesday, CNRP and CPP supporters clashed in the capital Phnom Penh after the opposition supporters held a rally in front of the CPP district headquarters.
CPP activists were believed to have pelted stones at the CNRP supporters, resulting in several injuries, officials said.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.