WASHINGTON DC - With Sam Rainsy expected to return to Cambodia on Friday, experts say there are a number of scenarios that could put him as a candidate for the July 28 election.
Sam Rainsy, who is the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, received a royal pardon for a number of crimes last week, paving the way for his return. But NEC officials have said he remains ineligible to vote in or contest the upcoming elections.
However, in interviews with VOA Khmer, political analysts and opposition officials say it is not too late to put him forward as a candidate.
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Rescue Party, said Sam Rainsy can run in the election “for sure.”
“Now the charges and conviction by the ruling party are cleared by the royal pardon,” he said. He gave no details on how that might happen, but he said Sam Rainsy will meet with party officials after his return to find a way forward. Sam Rainsy said his pardon was a step in the right direction for the elections, but more must be done to ensure they reach international standards.
Speaking anonymously, one political observer told VOA Khmer that Sam Rainsy must first work to be put back on the national voter registry.
His name was removed after he was convicted on charges stemming from uprooting border markers near Vietnam in 2009 and subsequently posting a map online that the government called illegal.
After he is put on the voter registry, Sam Rainsy must replace one of the constituents running for office, the expert said. “Then the party submits a new list to the National Election Committee. After that, Sam Rainsy can be a candidate.”
The scenario can’t be done without a deal with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, the expert said.
Koul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, a monitoring group, said Sam Rainsy can appeal to the Constitutional Council, which interprets laws and helps solve election disputes that are not resolved by the National Election Committee. King Norodom Sihamoni can also exercise more royal power to intervene, he said.
Sam Rainsy’s pardon last week came amid mounting criticism of this year’s election process, which critics say is not meeting international standards. And while donor countries like the US, France and Japan have applauded the pardon, some observers say the election will not be credible if Sam Rainsy is not allowed to also run for office.