Few Takers as Cambodia Tries to Lure Back Banned Opposition Politicians

Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior on Thursday issued detailed instructions for the political rehabilitation of lawmakers from the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), but a party official said it had no interest in returning while leader Kem Sokha remained in jail.

Politicians desiring rehabilitation have to individually file a request with the ministry with court papers and a thumbprint. The ministry would then forward the request to Prime Minister Hun Sen ask the country’s king to pardon the lawmaker by royal decree, the ministry said.

Asked about the offer, senior CNRP official Hing Soksan told RFA’s Khmer Service that the party had no intention of following the instruction while party president Kem Sokha remained under house arrest on treason charges.

We cannot request rehabilitation while our leader is being detained. We are not interested in the instruction, he said.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after Kem Sokha was arrested, and slapped a five-year ban on the political activities of 118 of its senior officials for the party’s role in an alleged plot to topple the government.

In late December, Hun Sen’s Constitutional Council unanimously approved an amendment to the draft law on political parties, paving the way for the reinstatement of rights to the 118 CNRP officials banned from politics by the Supreme Court’s decision.

The legislation does not provide for the reestablishment of the CNRP, and Hun Sen has said the political rights of the officials will only be reinstated on an individual basis if they had shown respect for the Supreme Court’s ruling, and provided they each make an individual request.

The move is widely seen as part of a bid by Hun Sen to ease international pressure on his government in response to a crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media. Critics have called it a trap aimed at fracturing the CNRP.

So far only Kong Koam, the former president of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), and his son Kong Bora, a former senior official with the CNRP, have requested and received royal pardons.

Political commentator Lao Mong Hay told RFA he didn’t expect that any of the banned CNRP members will request rehabilitation.

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