Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) with oppositon leader Sam Rainsy in Phnom Penh in February 2006. Photograph: AFP
Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy will be listed as a candidate in Kandal province, his party said yesterday, despite the fact that he has been repeatedly ruled ineligible to run.
In the unlikely event a deal is brokered and Rainsy is permitted to return to Cambodia and run, the listing would pit him head to head with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is again standing in the central province.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party has yet to register, said spokesman Nhem Ponharith, but it will do so by the weekend. When it does, Rainsy will be among those listed.
“The reason we are late is because we are still studying the legal procedures to pave the way for Sam Rainsy, so he can contest with his candidate counterpart Hun Sen in Kandal province,” said Ponharith.
In the previous election, Rainsy stood in Kampong Cham province.
It is unclear what the legal avenues would be, and Ponharith declined to expound. In the past, the National Election Committee has repeatedly and in no uncertain terms ruled Rainsy ineligible to vote
NEC’s secretary-general, Tep Nytha, reiterated the point yesterday, saying that Rainsy has no right to stand as a candidate because of his conviction record.
“We will examine the candidate list of the CNRP when they do submit it to us, and if Sam Rainsy is in fact on the list, we will request them to change within five days,” Nytha told the Post.
According to election law, convicted persons are banned from either voting or running. Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in France, faces 12 years in prison should he return on a raft of convictions including incitement, disinformation and destruction of public property. His supporters insist the charges are politically motivated, and officials as high profile as the US president have urged the government to drop them and allow Rainsy to return to run in the July elections. But even if charges were dropped, Rainsy’s name had been struck from the voter list for more than a year and – by law – could not be added back at this point.
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Tith Sothea said the candidature push appeared to be little more than political theatre, and weak at that.
“I think that it is silly to match Sam Rainsy with Samdech Techo Hun Sen as a candidate for contesting in Kandal, because he was barred by the law and he has no right,” said Sothea.
But from a strategic standpoint, the party likely had little choice, pointed out Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.
“They know that they almost certainly will not get that, but at least they show the public, the voters, that they’re trying, that they’re working hard to get Sam Rainsy back as a candidate,” he said.
If such decisions were based solely on law, said Panha, it would be clear there is no way Rainsy could stand. However, he continued, the party was likely holding out hope for a political compromise. Whether legal or not, “in Cambodia, sometimes political compromise can make something happen”.
There is little to suggest such compromise is viable, he admitted.
“Based on the NEC’s [past] word or the Constitutional Council’s word, we have not gotten any signal of political compromise.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABBY SEIFF