The National Election Committee (NEC) on Monday said that opposition leader Sam Rainsy will not be allowed to contest the national election on Sunday, leading the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president to respond that his party would likely not accept the vote results and warned of protests.
On Sunday, Mr. Rainsy sent a letter to the NEC asking that he be allowed to run as a candidate for Kandal province. After a daylong meeting on Monday, the NEC responded in a statement addressed to Mr. Rainsy, stating that the nine NEC members could not accept his request.
“The NEC can not enlist the name [Sam Rainsy] on the candidate list for the election because His Excellency did not fulfill the conditions of a standing candidate for the Cambodia National Rescue Party in accordance with the election law,” the NEC said in a statement.
The NEC deleted Mr. Rainsy from the voter list in November citing a regulation against convicted criminals being allowed to stand for election.
Until he received a Royal Pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni on July 12, Mr. Rainsy had faced an 11-year jail sentence for a raft of charges he contends were politically motivated.
Following the Royal Pardon, Mr. Rainsy had also asked that he be allowed to cast a vote in the election, but NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said that the deadline for both voter and candidate registration had long passed, and that neither list could be changed to include the opposition party leader.
“We made [the voter list] already and it is in effect, so we can not change it…. The candidate list can also not change,” Mr. Nytha said.
Mr. Rainsy said Monday that he was not surprised to hear the decision of the NEC, which is made up primarily of members sympathetic to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.
“I did expect such a decision. I think the CPP is afraid. Everybody can see the unprecedented surge of popular support for the opposition so if they announce me to be a candidate and an official challenger to outgoing Prime Minister Hun Sen they would feel in danger…so they use a technicality as a barrier to stop me from moving too fast,” Mr. Rainsy said by phone from Pursat province where he is currently campaigning.
The display of popular support to which he was referring was on show Friday when the CNRP leader returned to the country after four years of self-imposed exile. More than 100,000 people took to the streets to welcome him back.
The election, Mr. Rainsy said, will not be viewed as free or fair, especially since the NEC’s ruling is in opposition to a request by Surya Subedi, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, that Mr. Rainsy be allowed to run in the election.
“There is now not even an appearance of legitimacy. So we have a strong basis to reject the result of such an election…. An election without a challenger for the outgoing prime minister is meaningless and worthless, nobody will accept such an election,” he said, adding that he expected the international community to support the opposition’s rejection of the result.
“We will reject the election results anyway…. If I can not run, it is just an additional point,” he said.
Still, he said that he would make a last ditch attempt to have his name added to the election candidate list by sending a letter to CPP National Assembly President Heng Samrin to ask for his immediate reinstatement as a lawmaker—a position he claims he has regained through King Norodom Sihamoni’s Royal Pardon, and which would allow him to stand for election.
Preventing Mr. Rainsy from standing as a candidate will further damage Cambodia’s reputation within the international community, independent political analyst Chea Vannath said.
“Without his participation, we will not be able to say that they are free and fair” elections, Ms. Vannath said.
Considering the protests that are likely to follow as well as the national and international criticism, Ms. Vannath said that rejecting Mr. Rainsy’s candidacy was a bad move by the government.
Chheang Vun, who is running as a lawmaker for the CPP in Battambang province, maintained that the NEC decision was unimportant.
Mr. Rainsy could still participate in the political life of the country, said Mr. Vun, if he can convince a newly elected CNRP member of Parliament to stand down and donate his position to him.
“It is not important for the election if Sam Rainsy stands as a candidate,” he said.