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National Assembly To Unseat Opposition Leader

Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy talks to Cambodian-American supporters in Falls Church, near Washington, DC on February 24, 3011. He has been sentenced to 12 years in prison and is on a two-day trip in Washington to garner support from the U

The National Assembly announced Wednesday it was removing Sam Rainsy from parliament, following the decision by the Supreme Court in February to uphold criminal charges against him.

Sam Rainsy, the main opposition leader in the National Assembly, will no longer hold his representative seat there, the Assembly said in announcing a decision made Tuesday.

The February Supreme Court decision, which upheld Sam Rainsy’s guilty verdict and two-year sentence for racial incitement and the destruction of markers on the Vietnamese border, effectively ended his legal bid to avoid a criminal sentence. He still faces an ongoing legal battle over a charge of disinformation, which carries a 10-year sentence.

In a directive issued Tuesday, National Assembly President Heng Samrin said the decision also meant, “Sam Rainsy must lose all rights and privileges to membership of the National Assembly for Kampong Cham province.”

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann called the move a slide in Cambodian democracy. The party will now work with the government to find a solution, he said, without elaborating.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the loss of the opposition’s main party leader would damage the upcoming elections in 2012 and 2013.

The move would hurt the opposition’s access to free and fair elections, he said, especially with its now ousted leader in exile.

Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, said Wednesday Sam Rainsy’s political life would be hurt in the short term, but she predicted he would eventually be allowed to return under a political solution.