WASHINGTON DC - The US has renewed concerns over Cambodia’s democratic system, following an announcement by the National Election Committee that opposition leader Sam Rainsy is not going to be eligible to vote or to run in the July polls.
Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the US State Department in Washington, said Friday the decision will hurt the legitimacy of Cambodia’s election process.
Sam Rainsy lives in exile, facing criminal charges he says are politically motivated and are preventing his return to the country. The NEC has taken his name off the national voter registry, and the criminal convictions against him make him ineligible to run for office.
Responding to a reporter’s question on Friday, Nuland said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has in the past raised Sam Rainsy’s case with Cambodia’s leaders.
"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.
Free and fair elections “require a level playing field and unfettered participation of opposition parties,” she said. “So the exclusion of a leading opposition leader calls into question the legitimacy of the whole democratic process in Cambodia.”
Hem Heng, Cambodia’s ambassador to the US, defended the NEC decision, saying Sam Rainsy’s conviction in court makes him ineligible by law.
Sam Rainsy is facing 12 years in prison on charges related to his uprooting border markers in Svay Rieng province in 2009 and the subsequent publication of a map he says details the true border but which the government claims is fraudulent. He was convicted by a judiciary widely viewed as corrupt and politically biased, and he has said he will seek a political settlement for his return for elections.
No compromise has so far emerged, and the elections are scheduled for July 28. Cambodia’s opposition, meanwhile, has reformed into the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which hopes to contest the elections with Sam Rainsy at the helm.