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Ranariddh Party Continues Push for Pardon

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."