Cambodia Pardons Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy Before Vote

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned opposition leader Sam Rainsy following a request from Prime Minister Hun Sen about two weeks before a national election, government spokesman Phay Siphan said.

Sam Rainsy has lived abroad since 2009 to avoid a jail sentence on charges he says were politically motivated, including falsifying maps and inciting racial discrimination. Hun Sen sought the pardon to assist peace and reconciliation for the country, Phay Siphan said.

This “is not because of the election, but because of peace and stability,” Phay Siphan said by phone, referring to Hun Sen.

The move may improve Cambodia’s image ahead of the July 28 election as Hun Sen, 60, seeks to extend a nearly three-decade hold on power. Sam Rainsy last month warned of violence if fraud taints the election outcome in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

Phay Siphan said that Sam Rainsy accepted his guilt as part of the pardon process. Sam Rainsy didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

Cambodia’s two main opposition parties holding about one quarter of the seats in parliament united last year to contest as the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Sam Rainsy had been banned from running as a candidate in July’s poll.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 90 of 123 seats in an election in 2008 that was described by the U.S. as an “improvement” over previous votes despite some flaws. The party is set to win again even though the opposition is poised to take more seats, Phay Siphan said.

Asked if the party will retain power, he said: “Of course -- 100 percent.”

Cambodia’s economy grew 7.2 percent last year on higher consumption and investment, the Asian Development Bank said in April. Gross domestic product is forecast to expand at the same pace this year and 7.5 percent in 2014 as the U.S. and Europe buy more Cambodia-made garments and footwear, the ADB said.

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