News / Asia

Cambodian King Approves Opposition Leader Pardon

FILE - In this July 27, 2008 photo, Sam Rainsy leader of Sam Rainsy Party greets his supporters after casting his vote at a polling station in kampong Cham province north of  Phnom Penh.
FILE - In this July 27, 2008 photo, Sam Rainsy leader of Sam Rainsy Party greets his supporters after casting his vote at a polling station in kampong Cham province north of Phnom Penh.
Robert Carmichael
The Cambodian government announced Friday that opposition leader in exile Sam Rainsy has been pardoned and is free to return to the country ahead of the general election scheduled for July 28.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Prime Minister Hun Sen had sent a request for a royal pardon to Cambodia’s king early Friday. The assent of the king, a constitutional monarch, is a formality.
The spokesman said the pardon is to promote national reconciliation and followed a formal pardon request Sam Rainsy sent to the King last month.
Speaking from Paris, where he has spent most of the past four years in self-imposed exile, Sam Rainsy said he was pleased at the news.
“I am happy not only for myself but mainly for Cambodia - this is a sign, an indication that we are moving in the right direction: the direction of national reconciliation, of national unity without which Cambodia cannot achieve democracy and cannot achieve true development,” he said.
Sam Rainsy had previously said he would return to Cambodia before the election despite an 11-year jail term hanging over him. At the time he had said he was prepared to go to jail - a position, one analyst commented, that risked turning him into a martyr.
His convictions in 2010 stemmed from two court cases, both of which relate to Cambodia’s contentious border with Vietnam. The bulk of the sentence was for disinformation after he showed off a map whose borders the government said were wrong. Rainsy’s supporters have long denounced the episode as politically motivated.
Supporters of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) shout slogans during a general election campaign in Kandal province, July 12, 2013.Supporters of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) shout slogans during a general election campaign in Kandal province, July 12, 2013.
Supporters of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) shout slogans during a general election campaign in Kandal province, July 12, 2013.
Supporters of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) shout slogans during a general election campaign in Kandal province, July 12, 2013.
Sam Rainsy’s return will thrill supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the coalition of key opposition parties formed to contest the election. The group remains the only serious challenger to Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
It will also come as a relief to those among Cambodia’s foreign donors who - Sam Rainsy suggested - had been involved in trying to broker a solution.
“Actually I have written to the foreign ministers, secretaries of state representing many countries that were the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement on Cambodia. So I think all of them have contributed to this happy end,” he said.
Questions remain on election

As a consequence of his conviction, Rainsy was also stripped of his parliamentary seat and was banned from running in the election. So does the pardon mean he will now be allowed to take part?
“So far not, unless they reverse some of the very arbitrary decisions that the electoral commission has made on political grounds,” he said.
The key remaining question is when Sam Rainsy will return. He plans to travel on his French passport, however it has expired and the French authorities are processing a replacement. Rainsy said he should receive it next week, and hopes to be back in Cambodia soon after.
However, he added, his return would not resolve a number of election-related issues, chief among them being the composition and the leadership of the National Election Committee.
“The electoral commission is not neutral, the electoral commission is a political tool for the ruling party to win any election even before voting day. So my return does not solve those problems,” he said.
Those problems, Sam Rainsy said, must be resolved too should Cambodia wish to be seen as holding elections that the wider world will view as free and fair.

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Comment Sorting
by: Savath Pou from: Sydney, NSW, Australia
July 14, 2013 5:16 AM
The pardon that should not have happened.

Upon formal request made by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Samdech Decho Hun Sen on Friday 12 July 2013, His Majesty King Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni has, next to no time, granted a royal pardon to the CNRP President, Mr. Sam Rainsy, who’s been living in self-imposed exile in France since 2009 just to escape the 11 year imprisonment terms hammered down by the courts.

Samdech Decho Hun Sen’s request for clemency is in itself a noble act which would never be made possible by an ordinary leader with an ordinary heart. The royal approval of the pardon in question is in itself nothing short of graciousness which inspires great admiration and deep respect.

However, the question of whether or not such an arrogant politician as Mr. Sam Rainsy deserves a pardon will certainly remain unanswered for many decades to come in the minds of the overwhelming majority of people who have steadfastly supported the Cambodian People's Party.

With all due respect, I am now asking my open questions to Samdech Decho Hun Sen as follows:

1- Samdech, you have said to the nation on many occasions that you will not request a royal pardon for Mr. Sam Rainsy unless he has spent at least two thirds of his 11 year sentence behind bars, but you actually turned around 180 degrees last Friday just to reverse your decision, why?

2- Taking into account that Mr. Sam Rainsy has been, is and will always be an arrogant Cambodian politician (in ordinary language a poisonous snake) with no real political agenda other than to avenge his father’s death, the traitor Sam Sary, how much of assurance you, Samdech, can give to the nation that the snake will not strike back and destabilize Cambodia’s peace in the future?

3- His Excellency Mr. Phay Siphan, spokesman of the Cabinet of Ministers, assured the media that you, Samdech, have requested the royal pardon for Mr. Sam Rainsy simply for the sake of national reconciliation. Samdech, would Mr. Sam Rainsy think of national reconciliation the same way as you do?

4- Samdech Prime Minister, the overwhelming majority of Khmer people, particularly the one who voted for the CPP in 2008 general election, are entitled to know whether or not you have consulted with them in the form of a national referendum before you actually signed the letter requesting a royal pardon for Mr. Sam Rainsy last Friday?

Samdech Prime Minister, anxiously awaiting your response, I remain
Yours respectfully.

Sydney, 14 July 2013.
Savath Pou,

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