Analysts say that with no more legal options available in a criminal case against Sam Rainsy, a political solution must be found ahead of upcoming elections.
The Supreme Court this week upheld criminal charges against the opposition leader, who was found guilty of racial incitement and destruction of property for uprooting border markers near Vietnam in 2009.
Sam Rainsy remains in exile and faces two years in prison for those charges, along with an additional sentence of 10 years for posting a map of the border on his party website that the government said was false and constituted disinformation.
The criminal charges will prevent him from leading his party from Cambodia in local elections in 2012 and from contesting national elections in 2013.
Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, told VOA Khmer that Prime Minister Hun Sen is “accustomed to win-win experiences,” and should be able to find a political solution for “national reconciliation.”
Sam Rainsy is still able to draw votes from the electorate, votes that could go to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party if he is unable to participate in elections, she said.
The Sam Rainsy Party currently holds 26 seats in the National Assembly, the leading opposition party. By contrast, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party holds 90 seats.
Chhaya Hang, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said a political solution would reflect the will of the people, especially Sam Rainsy supporters.
Without Sam Rainsy’s involvement in upcoming elections, he said, the international community will question the legitimacy of Cambodian democracy. Sam Rainsy will not be able to fully participate in campaigns from abroad, he said.
Sam Rainsy’s case should not have been handled in the courts at all, he said. “This kind of political dispute should not have been solved through that,” he said. “There’s no need to use a court that frightens people and makes them unhappy.”
“We see that today there should be a mutual uniting to develop the nation, because poverty is a huge issue for our kingdom,” he said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yiep denied allegations the ruling party has influence over the courts, and said Sam Rainsy had broken the law when he removed the border posts.
Whether a political solution is available is now dependent on Sam Rainsy and is the prerogative of Hun Sen.
Hun Sen has said a political solution is not possible.
However, there have been other political opponents in the past who have received royal pardons through requests from Hun Sen to King Norodom Sihamoni. Ahead of the 2008 elections, Prince Norodom Ranariddh was allowed to return after a pardon of embezzlement charges.
Sam Rainsy visited the US last week to meet US officials, in search of support for his party and a possible return to politics. International officials maintain that a healthy opposition is necessary in a democracy.