Having failed to move the international community with a second boycott threat, the opposition Son Sann and Sam Rainsy parties announced Sunday they would participate in July 26 elections despite serious reservations.
In a statement released Sunday, party presidents Sam Rainsy and Son Soubert said their supporters demanded they stay in the race.
“The Cambodian people are speaking out and supporting us with bravery and loyalty. This support gives us hope that the people may yet win a peaceful future despite the violent acts and electoral manipulations of the ruling party,” the statement said.
“It is therefore our intention to remain in the race, leading to polling on July 26.”
But a Sam Rainsy Party candidate confirmed Sunday that it was the international community, more than the people, that persuaded the parties to stay in.
“We have decided to participate under pressure from the international community, [which said] if we don’t participate we will be left out,” said Son Chhay, a National Assembly candidate in Siem Reap.
He said that opposition leaders had met with envoys including UN Asia-Pacific Representative Francesc Vendrell, and were told that diplomats were working to improve conditions for the elections but that an opposition boycott would not force them to declare the polls non-credible.
“Mr Vendrell told us we have no choice but to participate, that if we don’t participate we will be left out and there would be less chance for us to fight for a better Cambodia,” Son Chhay said. “Since they leave no choice for us to make, we have to do it.”
The opposition has twice used the threat of a boycott to try to pressure the international community to push the government more on issues such as media access and intimidation.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has scoffed at boycott threats, saying they are desperation tactics used by parties that know they have no chance of winning.
The Sam Rainsy and Son Sann parties last threatened a boycott just before the June 20 Friends of Cambodia meeting, and promised to make a final decision July 5.
The opposition National United Front, which includes Funcinpec and the Khmer Neutral Party as well as Sam Rainsy and Son Sann parties, had already declared May 27 that they would not participate in elections unless the July 26 date was changed.
The date remained unchanged, and Funcinpec’s Prince Ranariddh, the deposed first premier, later backpedaled on the boycott, saying the declaration was only a threat.
Funcinpec and the Khmer Neutral Party did not join Sam Rainsy and Son Sann Party president Son Soubert in the second boycott threat, leading to further speculation of division with the NUF.
Son Chhay admitted Sunday that both boycotts were aimed at influencing the international community, but were twice unsuccessful. “We have tried but we have failed.”
The statement from the two parties Sunday highlighted its complaints about the electoral process, including intimidation, limited media access and exclusion of potential voters from registration.
“A free and fair election cannot take place under these conditions,” the statement said. “We urge…that as many international observers as possible come to help ensure the integrity of the polls.”
And although boycott threats have failed twice before, the two parties did not rule out pulling out of the polls at the last minute. “We will continue to stay in, but we reserve the right to withdraw if there is violence,” Son Soubert told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.