The Cambodian government last week issued new guidelines aimed at enticing former opposition officials to re-enter political life.
More than 100 former Cambodia National Rescue Party officials were banned from politics for five years in a Supreme Court decision in November 2017. The party was also dissolved over allegations party officials conspired with the United States to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Washington and the CNRP officials have denied the allegations and the Cambodian government has yet to produce evidence to support the claims.
But the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has since opened the door for the officials to return to political life if they make formal apologies for their alleged transgressions.
“Individuals will be able to legally perform political activities again in accordance with Cambodian law after receiving a royal pardon to restore their rights,” Sak Setha, a secretary of state, said last week.
The directive came after the CPP amended the political parties law to allow the former CNRP officials to conduct political activities once more.
But CNRP leaders rejected the move, saying it would legitimize the dissolution of the party.
“If we don’t even recognize the law that dissolved us, why would we recognize their guidelines?” asked Mu Sochua, a CNRP vice president. “If we recognize it, it means that we will dissolve the wishes and hopes of more than half of the population in the country.”
Two CNRP officials, a former party adviser, Kong Korm, and his son, Kong Bora, a former lawmaker, have already been granted royal pardons.
The CNRP won a large minority in the 2013 election and 2017 local elections, prompting a widespread crackdown by Hun Sen’s government.
“This is not right, that they dissolved our party and now ask us to beg for our rights to compete with them,” Sochua said. “We should not lower our standards.”
CNRP president Kem Sokha remains under house arrest in Phnom Penh on charges of colluding with the US to topple the government. The international community has demanded his unconditional release.