Phnom Penh (FN), May 19 – Kong Korm, then president of Sam Rainsy Party and now Khmer Will Party’s honorary president, told his exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy that only those rehabilitated can re-enter politics.

“A convict [Sam Rainsy] whose political rights has been banned [by the Cambodian Supreme Court’s verdict] has no rights to speech and freedom of expression like me,” Kong Korm addressed at the Extraordinary Congress, celebrating one-year anniversary of Khmer Will Party, held at its headquarter in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmorn district on Sunday.

Korm was rehabilitated to re-enter politics following his request for political rights on 9 January 2019 after the amendment to political party law came into force.

Although Sam Rainsy, former leader of the dissolved CNRP, appealed to all 118 former CNRP officials not to request for political rights, Korm still chose to do.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen used to appeal to the dissolved opposition that only those rehabilitated by the King could re-enter politics; the rest will face lawsuits, speaking at the graduation ceremony of Phnom Penh International University in late January.

“Those [former members of the dissolved CNRP] who have not yet been rehabilitated could not do politics. Opposing the Supreme Court’s verdicts is a serious crime,” he warned.

“Those who did not request for their rights will have to wait until 2022 to re-enter politics.”

At least 118 of former CNRP officials were banned from engaging in political activities for five years when the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP on 16 November 2017 for “attempting to overthrow the government through a colour revolution”.

To strengthen democracy and political space in response to EU measures on EBA trade scheme, the government amended law on political party to pave ways for former opposition to re-engage in politics.

The amended Article 45 of law on political party allowed the banned individual to request for rehabilitations from the King through Prime Minister or Ministry of Interior.

As of 19 March 2019, nine of the banned politicians were rehabilitated, including former top advisor Kong Korm and lawmaker Kong Bora, rehabilitated on 15 January 2019; opposition member Sim Vanny, on 2 March 2019; former Svay Rieng representative Real Khemarin on 18 March; former CNRP lawmakers Ou Chanrath, Kang Kimhak, Chiv Kakta, Tep Sothy, and former party board member Chan Seila were rehabilitated on 19 March.