KING Norodom Sihamoni on Tuesday granted “rehabilitation” to Kong Korm and his son Kong Bora – the first of 118 opposition officials banned from politics for five years to request a royal decree – allowing them to return to the political fold.
The 118 high-ranking Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials were banned from political activity in November 2017 when the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition party two months after its president, Kem Sokha, was arrested for treason.
“Affirmed is the rehabilitation of Kong Korm, male, born April 6, 1941, and Kong Bora, male, born September 20, 1974, who were banned from conducting political activities for five years according to Supreme Court verdict No034 dated November 16, 2017,” reads the royal decree dated Tuesday and signed by the King.
The King early this month signed off on an amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties that gives the prime minister the power to request His Majesty for the return of political rights to those banned by the courts before the term is up.
Kong Korm said on Wednesday that he felt excited to be rehabilitated by the King and have his political rights returned.
“May I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng for requesting this to Prime Minister [Hun Sen], and I would like to thank [the prime minister] for requesting the King, and I would like to thank the King who has reviewed and granted me the rehabilitation to allow me to have my political rights returned,” he said.
Kong Korm said he would join the Khmer Will Party (KWP) founded by Kong Monika, another son. The KWP is due to participate in municipal, provincial, town and district council elections in May this year.
“The Khmer Will Party is a new shelter for former CNRP members and a new opportunity and a new choice for CNRP supporters and for Cambodians who want change."
“I did not betray the will of the people or the interests of the nation,on the contrary, we are clean, willing and love the nation and respect the law."
“[We] respect the will of the people and the interests of the nation, and I do not pay attention to accusations [to the contrary],” Kong Korm said.
He said Kong Bora would return to his job at the Ministry of Agriculture and would not make a decision on a possible return to politics until 2022 or 2023.
Ministry of Interior spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said the ministry was yet to receive applications for rehabilitation from any other of the 118 banned CNRP politicians.
“Hun Sen has been utterly defeated – only two out of the 118 CNRP officials banned from politics accept to be ‘rehabilitated’ by Hun Sen,” CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy posted on Facebook last Thursday.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan hit back at Rainsy’s comments.
“Those who wish to submit their applications are not only two, it could be more. Sam Rainsy misunderstands that he can control them. [Hun Sen] did not try to lure anyone who was banned from politics."
“If they want to come back, OK, come, but if they don’t want to come, it’s up to them. It is their personal affair,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that if only two banned lawmakers had so far submitted requests to have their political rights returned, the government, to encourage others, should reconsider the process allowing them to do so.
“This could be due to the procedure allowing them to return. There are some areas that could prevent them from making a request, so the authorities should review the procedure to make it easier for them to act without coming across as cynical to the public."
“Also, as this law is new, it leaves them some time to consider their position and to discuss with each other and their supporters. It is not easy to make such a decision.”
Political analyst Ou Virak said Kong Korm and his son being given rehabilitation, with the opportunity available to the other former CNRP officials to request the same, was unlikely to placate the EU as it considers withdrawing Cambodia’s access to its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement.
“It will be an insignificant development [as far as the EU is concerned], and there’s little chance it will make any significant impact. Whether this could influence the decision regarding the EBA … I don’t think so,” he said.
The amendment to Article 45 states: “An individual who the court has banned from conducting political activities will be legally allowed to participate in politics when the ban has expired as determined by the Supreme Court’s verdict or in the case that the individual has been rehabilitated by His Majesty the King following a request by the prime minister in accordance with a proposal from the minister of interior.”