The Ministry of Interior on Wednesday received letters from former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) adviser Kong Korm and his son Kong Bora, a former CNRP lawmaker, to have their political rights reinstated as part of recent reforms paving the way for banned opposition officials to return to the political stage.
The requests for a return of full political rights came following King Norodom Sihamoni’s approval of the amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties last week.
Ministry of Interior spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said it had received the letters and would “review” the requests before sending them to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Former Sam Rainsy Party acting president Korm and his son Bora were among the 118 CNRP politicians who were banned from politics for five years by the Supreme Court in November 2017 following the arrest of party president Kem Sokha on a charge of treason.
The CNRP was also dissolved by the Kingdom’s top court as a consequence.
Bora could not be reached for comment, but Korm confirmed on Wednesday that his assistant had submitted his own letter of request to the ministry.
“I wrote and submitted my request to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng."
“I asked that he submit my request to the prime minister, and the prime minister then send my request to the King so that my political rights can be returned. We [Korm and Bora] have submitted these requests so that we can be free from the political ban before the Supreme Court’s ruling comes to an end [in 2022].
“I believe that I will be granted my political rights because I did not violate the Supreme Court’s decision."
“During the ban, I did not take part in political activities, so I am sure that my rights will be reinstated,” he said.
He added that he expects more CNRP lawmakers to submit requests of their own as they are dissatisfied with the party’s “acting president” Sam Rainsy.
Ou Chanrath, another banned CNRP lawmaker, said on Wednesday that Korm and Bora’s applications did not help the party solve the ongoing political crisis, as Sokha is yet to be granted his freedom and the CNRP is yet to be reinstated.
“This request was done individually, so it might have been done under pressure and maybe there will be no one else who will submit such requests,” he said.
However, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) Sok Eysan denied claims that Korm and Bora’s applications were made under pressure, saying the allegation had “no meaning”.
The Article 45 amendment – unanimously approved by the Senate in late December – states that individuals banned from politics can “attain full political rights back after the end of the ban duration . . . through the request of the prime minister, following a request from the Minister of Interior”.
The prime minister has said that applications will only be considered from those who are deemed to have respected the Supreme Court’s initial verdict and refrained from participating in politics. He has also stipulated that rights will only be returned on an individual basis.
However, Rainsy has warned former opposition politicians that considering submitting such requests would amount to “betrayal” and they would be “playing Hun Sen’s games”.
While the government said that it is extending an olive branch to the opposition for the good of the country, many in the CNRP claim it is designed to divide the opposition, driving a wedge between those who choose to return and those who refuse.
Political analyst Meas Nee said if a number of other CNRP officials followed the lead of Korm and Bora, it could lead to division in the party and that it is important to “wait and see how many more will submit their requests”.