The US has once again censured Cambodia for its refusal to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy to run in the upcoming elections, saying it delegitimised the Kingdom’s claims of democracy.
The subject was raised in Friday’s US State Department press briefing, and came just hours after the National Election Committee publicly reaffirmed that Rainsy would not be permitted to run or vote. The NEC in November deemed Rainsy ineligible and removed his name from the voter rolls.
Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in France, faces 12 years’ imprisonment should he return on charges popularly believed to be trumped up. In response to a question on the Cambodian National Rescue Party president’s ineligibility to run, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the State Department was “disappointed” by the NEC’s continued refusal to allow Rainsy’s participation.
“We are disappointed in the Cambodian National Election Committee’s announcement recently again reiterating that Sam Rainsy was removed from the official voter list for the July 2013 elections due to criminal convictions, which credible observers believe have been politically motivated,” she said. “[T]he exclusion of a leading opposition leader calls into question the legitimacy of the whole democratic process in Cambodia. So we’ll continue raising this and, as I said, we are disappointed.”
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha brushed aside the criticisms and defended the decision to block Rainsy.
“We cannot accept [convicts] as election candidate . . . [I]f someone is a convict, the NEC cannot accept them to be a parliamentarian,” he said.
The NEC has cited election law in its ban, but Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia Executive Director Koul Panha called it a misreading.
“The laws do not state that convicts must be deleted from poll registration,” he said, noting that Rainsy’s convictions could theoretically be overturned and that removing him from voter lists would unjustly disenfranchise him.