Following a request from Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday pardoned Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha, quashing a five-month prison term related to his alleged marital infidelity.
In a move a ruling party official called a “compromise”, Sokha, 63, was absolved of his September conviction for refusing to appear in court for questioning over the “prostitution” case linked his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty.
Circulated on local media, the decree states that the pardon for Sokha’s conviction – which was upheld at the Appeal Court on November 4 – takes effect from the date of the King’s signature, December 2.
The decision – welcomed by CNRP officials – will end almost six months of self-imposed confinement for the CNRP leader, who took refuge in the party’s headquarters in May after an attempt to arrest him in connection with the affair.
“This is a good solution that shows there is discussion between Khmer and Khmer and we can solve problems,” said CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith earlier today, adding that, as far as he knew, the apparent political deal came with “no conditions”.
“We hope that when His Excellency Kem Sokha has full rights to engage in politics on behalf of lawmakers, he will participate at the National Assembly.”
The litigation surrounding Sokha’s sex scandal was widely considered a politically motivated legal attack against the opposition and government opponents.
Four human rights workers, an election official and opposition commune chief have been imprisoned in related cases, while two other CNRP lawmakers were also charged.
Ponhearith said he hoped a “solution” could be found in those cases, adding Sokha would discuss the matters with the CPP.
Sam Chankea, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, said Sokha’s pardon provided hope that their imprisoned staff and National Election Committee deputy secretary Ny Chakrya - a former Adhoc employee - would be released.
“The political situation has recovered because politicians can discuss with and tolerate each other,” Chankea said. “Therefore, we hope the situation will get better.”
Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Sok Eysan said Prime Minister Hun Sen had requested the pardon as a response to a recent request for clemency by Sokha on Thursday.
“There is no reason [other than] because Kem Sokha had written a letter to Samdech [Hun Sen],” Eysan said.
“He did it through the legal procedure, and [requesting a pardon] is at the head of the government’s discretion.
“He (Samdech) did not want to solve (the political dispute), but because it is only a small punishment, it means we can compromise, therefore we compromised.”
Sokha’s request, circulated in local media, praised Hun Sen’s efforts to “reconcile and unify” the country.
“We all are Khmer, who have suffered pain and lost a lot of our beloved. Samdech used to say that there are a lot of national problems and that we are Khmer and must work together to solve those problems for the next generation,” Sokha wrote.
“I hope that the charge against me by the court, that Samdech will consider… to ask the King to pardon me.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters that Hun Sen had shown his “virtue and softness” by requesting the pardon.
Analyst Ou Virak said both sides had likely reached an agreement because neither wanted to see Sokha imprisoned.
“Kem Sokha doesn’t want to be in jail, and I’m sure the CPP don’t want to imprison him and turn him into a symbol of resistance,” Virak said.
The analyst said that the pardon, however, could work to the CPP’s benefit, by further sidelining CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who fled abroad last year to avoid arrest and has since been officially exiled, and breading mistrust between factions within the opposition.
“If the design is to split the opposition, I think it could work magic, just the speculation alone has already worked to create friction and mistrust within the opposition and that mistrust is bound to create future problems,” he said.
Rainsy has not yet replied to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton and Phak Seangly