Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy insisted Tuesday that a royal pardon he received should “automatically” restore his right to vote and compete in next week’s election, saying he does not have to wait until year-end to reregister as a voter as advised by the election authority.
His Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) threatened to raise the issue with the country’s constitutional courts if the National Election Committee (NEC) continues to bar him from standing as a parliamentary candidate in the July 28 polls.
Sam Rainsy, who returned to the country last week after four years in self-imposed exile following a royal pardon that quashed an 11-year jail term for politicized offenses, has warned of street protests if he is denied the right to contest the election.
Cambodia’s election laws require election candidates to be registered as voters, and Sam Rainsy’s name was removed from the voter rolls after he was convicted in absentia on charges he claims are politically motivated.
The NEC said on Monday that Sam Rainsy could not compete in the election despite the pardon granted by King Norodom Sihamoni, saying that in order to do so he would need to reregister as a voter and that the registration period had passed and he must wait for the next opportunity 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.
"I would like His Excellency to know that my request to the NEC to register my name in the voting and candidate lists does not mean that I am requesting that you reregister me,” he said.
“I am a lawmaker and I already had my name on the voting list, though the NEC deleted my name due to the court's verdicts, and on July 12 the King pardoned me.”
“I am automatically restored of my immunity and other privileges as a lawmaker outlined in Article 15 of the Lawmakers’ Statute," he said.
Moreover, even if he were required to reregister, the NEC has the authority to allow him to do so, Sam Rainsy said, citing as a precedent amendments made at least twice within the months ahead of the last national elections in 2008.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said Tuesday that if the NEC continues to refuse to reinstate Sam Rainsy’s registration, the CNRP will file a complaint to the Constitutional Council to interpret the legality of the decision.
In a separate letter on Tuesday, Sam Rainsy requested the National Assembly President Heng Samrin to officially restore his parliamentary immunity, which was stripped from him in 2009 in a move that paved the way for his criminal convictions.
"Based on Article 15 of the Lawmakers’ Statute and the spirit of national reconciliation and Khmer unity, I would like Samdech [Heng Samrin] to restore my immunity as a lawmaker to enable me to fulfill my job as a lawmaker," he said.
All other CNRP lawmakers were stripped of their parliamentary immunity and status last month when the National Assembly’s CPP-run permanent committee dismissed them on the grounds that they violated the law by quitting their old parties to join the newly formed CNRP, which is a coalition of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party.
The NEC and the National Assembly have not responded to Sam Rainsy's requests. NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Since returning to Cambodia, Sam Rainsy has said he will not recognize any victory by Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) unless he is allowed to contest the elections, warning there could also be a backlash from the Cambodian people.
Tens of thousands of supporters took to the streets to greet the opposition leader when he arrived in Phnom Penh last week.
Hun Sen is widely expected to win this month’s elections, extending his 28 years in power.
His 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.
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.
Reported by Keo Nimol for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.