Sam Rainsy is due to set foot on Cambodian soil for the first time in four years. Knowing his desperate love for the country, this is surely a time of critical importance for him.
But the danger is real that Rainsy will meet the same fate as the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino in the 1980s, when the latter returned home from exile to be assassinated when disembarking his plane.
The Philippines then embarked on a long journey of turmoil only ended by the ousting of then president Ferdinand Marcos after he won an election so rigged by irregularities that even the US, his closest ally, could not support it. The election of Madam Aquino paved the way for a more democratic rule.
Does Cambodia have to go through the same period of uncertainties or even worse? The answer rests with the highest institutions of the country, namely the Prime Minister and the King. The CNRP president was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment by Cambodian courts in what is generally accepted was a polit-ically motivated case.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is widely expected to win this election, would show inspired leadership if he overcame his personal feelings and asked the King to pardon his staunchest opponent. It is not forbidden to dream that his mag-nanimity would go as far as to do so without asking anything in exchange.
The political gain the Prime Minister could garner by this bold move would be immense, even if there would surely be talks of his so-called “retreat”. But this is the kind of “retreat” only a statesman can afford.
Before the announcement of Sam Rainsy’s return, there were threats of civil war if the opposition won this election. We all know that this was no more than electoral propaganda.
However, if Sam Rainsy meets the same fate as Mr Aquino then the danger of civil war is far from being only rhetorical.
Many senior government ministers, who I have known since we were students, care passionately about their country’s future.
They too have a duty to bring about national reconciliation.
Hopefully they will rise to the occasion and smooth things out so that the return of one of the illust-rious sons of Cambodia becomes a chance and not a bad spell for the country.
Chum Sirath is the vice chairman and chief executive of IT firm Net Solutions