Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lawsuit threatens Ranariddh's election campaign

Lawsuit threatens Ranariddh's election campaign

Lawsuit threatens Ranariddh's election campaign

The lawsuit against Prince Norodom Ranariddh - leader of the Norodom Ranariddh

Party (NRP) - is moving toward trial, threatening Ranariddh's campaign for the

commune council elections on April 1, a local election monitoring NGO

said.

"If a leader of a political party cannot participate in the

electoral campaign it effects both the process of the election and the

supporters of that party," Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for

Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) told the Post on March

5.

Panha said that barring a political leader for political reasons from

participating in the electoral campaign compromises the electoral

process.

"It means the election is not free and fair and it lacks an

international standard," he said.

But Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the

National Election Committee (NEC), said the legal battle between NRP and

Funcinpec would not compromise the elections because they were only the commune

elections.

"This is not the national election to elect the Prime

Minister," he said. "These are local elections and the candidates are not

politicians."

Nhiek Bun Chhay, Funcinpec's secretary-general, filed the

lawsuit against Ranariddh because the prince sold Funcinpec's Phnom Penh

headquarters in 2004. Bun Chhay alleged that Ranariddh sold the party's

headquarters without consultation with Funcinpec officials, and that this

constituted a breach of trust.

Ranariddh is living in France, where he is

teaching at a law school. With the trial looming it is unclear whether he will

return to Cambodia. Ranariddh has twice failed to attend court when summoned for

the investigation into the alleged breach of trust.

On February16, the

Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a warrant ordering the National Police to

apprehend and escort Prince Norodom Ranariddh to the court for questioning upon

his return to Cambodia.

Muth Chantha, NRP's spokesman, told the Post that

Phnom Penh Municipal Court has now set March 13 as the date for Ranariddh's

trial - just three days before the commune council electoral campaign

begins.

Chantha said he was prepared for Ranariddh's return to Cambodia

but said Ranariddh had delayed returning because of perceived irregularities in

the court procedure. He said Ranariddh believed the court was being manipulated

by politicians in the ruling parties of the coalition government.

"We

need time to examine the proceedings of the court and whether the court respects

its independence and the principles of justice or not," Chantha said. "We have a

strategy to prepare for the return of the prince to Cambodia."

Ranariddh

resigned as President of the National Assembly on March 14, 2006, and was

dismissed as co-chairman of the Council for Development of Cambodia (CDC) and

chairman of the National Olympic Committee.

Ranariddh was ousted from the

presidency of Funcinpec on October 18, 2006. The move came after Prime Minister

Hun Sen accused Ranariddh of appointing unqualified individuals to political

positions and declared that Ranariddh's mistress, Ouk Phalla, was a moral

embarrassment.

Ranariddh was then slapped with the Funcinpec law

suit.

Chantha said Funcinpec's law suit was motivated by political

revenge and jealousy because Ranariddh continued to retain strong grassroots

support after losing the leadership.

Ranariddh Anandayat, Ranariddh's

public relations adviser, told the Post on March 1 that politicians from

Funcinpec backed by the CPP have been trying to push Ranariddh out of politics

to serve their own political interests.

Anandayat said he was optimistic

that the popularity of Ranariddh at a grassroots level remains strong. He said

he expected Funcinpec would be surprised because the NRP would be able to elect

more than a thousand candidates to the country's 1,621 commune

councils.

Anandayat said that Nhiek Bun Chhay had appealed for the court

to bring Ranariddh to trial, even though the investigation had not

finished.

"I think that the appeal of the member of the government has

indicated that the politicians have interfered in the judicial system,"

Anandayat said.

He said the courts continue to violate judicial

procedures and continue to be used as an instrument to defeat the opposition

parties.

"Most importantly, the court is still controlled by a party of

one man in power," he said.

Anandayat said international donors must

consider their support for the court system, and ensure that proper reforms are

established to create an open and fair judicial system. "The NRP needs justice,"

he said.

The NRP argues that the breach of trust allegation is false and

has appealed for a mass peaceful demonstration in support of

Ranariddh.

The Phnom Penh Municipality has allowed the NRP to organize a

demonstration in the party's headquarters.

Nouv Sovathero, Funcinpec's

spokesperson, refused to comment on the case. He said it was an issue between

Ranariddh, NRP and the court.

"Ranariddh is the suspect and the court

will take him to trial," Sovathero said.

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