PHNOM PENH, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The forthcoming general election will be free and fair despite the absence of opposition leader Sam Rainsy living in exile due to his convictions, Cambodian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Hor Namhong said Tuesday.
"We believe that the July 28 election will be conducted in a free, fair and democratic atmosphere as the previous elections," he told the outgoing ambassador of Australia to Cambodia, Penny Richards.
"There is no any reason to say that the forthcoming election is not free and fair even though Sam Rainsy has not joined the race due to his conviction of criminal offences," he said.
He said an election is deemed "free and fair" because of the participation of parties from all political camps.
He added that despite Sam Rainsy's absence in the upcoming poll, his party has actively campaigned for the election.
The 63-year-old Sam Rainsy, leader of the newly-formed National Rescue Party, fled the country in late 2009 before Cambodian court sentenced him to 11 years in jail in absentia for two counts -- removing border poles and publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam and accusing Hor Namhong of being a member of the Khmer Rouge regime.
In November 2012, the National Election Committee removed Sam Rainsy from the voters list because he is unable to participate in the upcoming election as a convicted criminal.
Some countries, particularly the United States, said that the conviction of Sam Rainsy was politically motivated and urged Cambodian government to allow for the return of Sam Rainsy ahead of the election, but the request was rejected by the government, saying that Sam Rainsy is not a political prisoner, but he committed crimes and deserved punishment by law.
Prime Minister Hun Sen predicted Monday that his ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) would win at least two-thirds majority in the forthcoming poll.
"In the last election, we won more than two-thirds in the parliament. I do believe that the CPP will be able to maintain the parliamentary seats not less than two-thirds in the forthcoming election," Hun Sen, who is also the CPP Vice-President, said.
Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and vowed to retain until he is 90.