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Elections Not Far, But Sam Rainsy Participation a Question

Opposition party leader Sam Raisy, right, claps in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A Cambodian court has sentenced Rainsy in absentia Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, to two years imprisonment for uprooting border markers on the frontier

The Sam Rainsy Party is preparing for the next elections, but whether or not its leader will join them remains an open question.

An EU official in Cambodia says the participation of Sam Rainsy at the head of his opposition party would be a benefit to the country’s political field.

“We believe that Cambodian politics will benefit from his continued involvement in the future,” Rafael Dochao Moreno, charge d’affaires for the EU in Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer by e-mail. “All politicians who comply with the legal requirements for being a candidate in elections should of course be allowed to participate.”

Sam Rainsy has been in exile for more than a year and faces up to 12 years imprisonment on criminal charges he has discounted as politically motivated. However, the convictions against him make him ineligible to participate in upcoming elections.

His party has remained a political force since the first elections in 2003, but it is unclear whether he will return for the next round of elections—for either the 2012 commune council elections or the 2013 general elections— and Prime Minister Hun Sen has said a political solution is not possible.

Some political observers have said that elections cannot be considered legitimate if Sam Rainsy cannot participate.

Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, told VOA Khmer that the Sam Rainsy Part would be at a disadvantage without its president.

“If in an electoral campaign a party takes a competitive advantage over another one, then the results can be different,” she said. “Such an electoral campaign is imbalanced.”

Opposition lawmakers say they are already at a disadvantage, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party with wide control of state TV and radio. The Sam Rainsy Party won 26 seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections, far behind the CPP’s 90-seat victory.

Chhaya Hang, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said political partners should be discussing means to ensure proper elections, which are coming soon.

“We want full, mutual discussions, and if an opposition leader that people also love, that people voted for, is abroad, how can he do it?” he said.

Cooperation between the political leaders will demonstrate that Cambodia “has no more conflict, has leadership politics, and will be stable toward elections in days upcoming shortly, meaning that all the parties are working together for the nation and the fate of the nation,” he said.

The EU’s Moreno said he believes Cambodian democracy is stable enough to deal with political differences of opinion, but said the EU’s role is not to mediate in politics or the courts.

“We have, however, on numerous occasions conveyed to all political parties in Cambodia our strong conviction that an open and constructive dialogue is central to the political debate in any country,” he said.