The Norodom Ranariddh Party is pushing Prime Minister Hun
Sen to pardon its exiled leader, offering to bring its two National Assembly
seats in line with the ruling party in exchange, officials said Thursday.
The Norodom Ranariddh Party won two seats in the election,
and if it sides with the opposition, it will create a block of 31 National
Assembly votes capable of drafting motions critical of the government.
Without the Norodom Ranariddh Party, the opposition Sam
Rainsy and Human Rights parties can only muster 29 votes, one vote short under
the constitution of drafting critical legislation or forwarding motions to call
government officials to answer policy questions before the Assembly.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh faces an 18-month prison sentence
and a fine of $150,000 if he returns to Cambodia, on breach of trust
charges stemming from the sale of Funcinpec party headquarters in 2006, when he
was president of the party.
The Norodom Ranariddh Party has requested a pardon from King
Norodom Sihamoni, but royal officials say the king has sought agreement for a
pardon from Hun Sen.
NRP spokesman Suth Dina said Thursday the party's two seats
have political value for the ruling Cambodian People's Party to help it avoid problems
from the opposition.
"If Prince Ranariddh joins in the opposition alliance,
it will make trouble for the CPP, because we have more than 30 elements to
criticize the government," he said. "We believe that the CPP,
especially Prime Minister Hun Sen, will not let the prince stay with the
opposition and will pardon the prince, for returning home."
Suth Dina did not say Thursday whether the Norodom Ranariddh
Party was ready to join the opposition coalition. The party broke with the
opposition by accepting the legitimacy of the election shortly after the polls.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thursday the
prince cannot be pardoned.
"The court sentenced him already," he said.
"But the king and the prime minister can ask the court to suspend the
prince's guilty sentence, and then the prince can go back home."