PHNOM PENH - The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has officially registered for July’s national election, but the name of Sam Rainsy, its nominal leader, has been omitted from its registration.
Sam Rainsy—who faces imprisonment if he returns to Cambodia on charges he says are politically motivated—is the party’s president, and his supporters had hoped that he would be allowed to return to contest the elections.
Western officials had said they wanted to see his return in order to ensure a free and fair election. But the omission of his name from the official registration of the party for the upcoming elections Friday means that return is seen as unlikely even by his own party.
Nhem Ponharith, an opposition lawmaker and member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said Sam Rainsy could not be registered as a candidate in the July 28 elections, in part because his name has been removed from his local voter registry.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha told VOA Khmer Friday the election body struck Sam Rainsy’s name from the voter registry in accordance with the law.
Sam Rainsy is facing 10 years in prison on charges related to his uprooting border markers near Vietnam in 2009, making him ineligible to vote or to run for office. Opposition leaders say the charges are being used against him to prevent him from contesting the elections, but ruling party officials have said his case is a matter for the courts.
“If the NEC did not erase his name [from the registry], it would be illegal and we would be criticized,” Tep Nitha said Friday.
Nhem Ponharith said Sam Rainsy remains the leader of the CNRP, but that he has not been officially listed as a candidate for the upcoming election.
The National Election Committee has come under criticism from the opposition, who says it is biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. US diplomats and UN officials have said the NEC must reform or Cambodia runs the risks of substandard elections.
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said it is not just Sam Rainsy’s predicament that is hurting the legitimacy of the election process.
“Cambodian politics is not real democracy,” he said. “It’s not just Sam Rainsy being unable to participate in the election, but there are other problems, like the NEC is not independent, irregular voter lists and [lack of fair] access to media, like TV.”