Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday made a last-ditch attempt to run as a candidate in Sunday’s national election, asking that CPP National Assembly President Heng Samrin reinstate him as a lawmaker.
The move followed the National Election Committee’s (NEC) rejection on Monday of Mr. Rainsy’s request he be allowed to run as the president of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The NEC said, with just days to go until the vote, it was too late to alter the candidate list to include Mr. Rainsy.
Mr. Rainsy’s name was removed from the candidates’ list last year, as well as from the voter register, on the grounds he was a convicted felon. But, following a Royal Pardon for convictions he contends were politically motivated, the opposition leader returned to Cambodia amid great fanfare last week.
“I have the honor to inform Samdech [Heng Samrin] that according to Article 15 of the Law on the Statute of Parliamentarians any convicted lawmaker who received a Royal Pardon will get back his immunity and his privileges” as a lawmaker, Mr. Rainsy wrote in the letter to Mr. Samrin.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun confirmed that the National Assembly received Mr. Rainsy’s letter, while Koam Kosal, Mr. Samrin’s Cabinet chief, declined to comment on the letter.
CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann said that the letter was delivered directly to Mr. Samrin’s staff.
“We are just waiting for a response now,” Mr. Sovann said.
The government is under public pressure to allow Mr. Rainsy to contest the ballot, which without his participation will be hard to claim was free or fair.
“We believe Sam Rainsy should be allowed to participate fully in the elections,” Sean McIntosh, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy, said in an email.
However, Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of legal aid NGO the Cambodian Defender’s Project, said that Mr. Rainsy’s letter to Mr. Samrin would likely have little effect.
“The NEC declined his request…because he is too late to register as a candidate. No one can register as a candidate just a few days before the elections,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
Mr. Rainsy’s seat as a lawmaker for the SRP remained vacant after he fled the country to avoid his prison sentence in 2009. Since then, the SRP has merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP, a move which lead the National Assembly’s permanent committee to strip 27 CNRP representatives of their parliamentary seats earlier this year.
As a result of this move, no member of the opposition has lawmaker status, and so for Mr. Rainsy to regain his position would mean resigning as CNRP president and rejoining the now defunct SRP, Mr. Sam Oeun said.
“If he resigns from the CNRP it’s ok. But why would he want to do that? There are only a few days left [until the election] so there is no point,” he said.