AFTER the first hints emerged Tuesday that Prime Minister Hun Sen might be open to a political solution allowing self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return and avoid jail, he and his party continued to refuse to release a specific date for his return.
Days after Rainsy boldly declared over the weekend he would come back before the July 28 election regardless of whether he was granted a pardon from criminal convictions, signs of a factional rift emerged within his Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Senior party members, who have repeatedly promised this week that a date for his return would be released imminently, were divided yesterday as to whether a party permanent committee meeting to determine this had even taken place.
Meanwhile, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan on Tuesday told Radio Free Asia that Rainsy must write to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for a compromise, but yesterday backed away from those comments, insisting simply that the opposition leader pursue a pardon through formal channels. Siphan said Rainsy should write to the Council of Ministers asking the body to forward a pardon request to the King.
“According to the Constitution, it’s only the Council of Ministers that have the competency to request a pardon,” he said, adding that if Rainsy continued to level accusations against the prime minister, it would be an obstacle to a pardon.
Rainsy, who faces a total of 11 years in prison on charges he claims were politically motivated but the government argues were perfectly legal, has already directly sent a letter to the King requesting a pardon.
In an emailed response yesterday, Rainsy said he “had always been looking for a political solution” but remained committed to return and face arrest or worse if this could not be brokered.
He declined to answer whether negotiations with Hun Sen had been initiated or to confirm a date for his return.
The CNRP’s head and deputy head of its public affairs division directly contradicted each other yesterday as to whether the permanent committee had met Tuesday night to determine that date.
Public affairs head Mu Sochua confirmed a meeting had taken place in which the date had been discussed, adding that Rainsy would return “very soon”.
“Citizens told us to announce the exact time when Mr President [Sam Rainsy] arrives. Four thousand to five thousand youths are waiting to greet him,” she said.
Her deputy, Kem Monovithya, who is also the daughter of Rainsy’s deputy, Kem Sokha, said, “First of all, we did not have the permanent committee [meeting] on Tuesday night”.
“Mr Rainsy has not so far discussed with the party whether he will write a letter or open any kind of negotiation with the ruling party,” she said, adding she understood a lot of people were becoming frustrated by the slow response of the party regarding the date of his return.
Political analyst Kem Ley said a member of the CNRP and “a big party supporter” that he had spoken to yesterday evening indicated a factional split was emerging in the party in regard to Rainsy’s return.
“He said they had divided into two groups, one group that required Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia and the second group that said they are moving in the right direction without requiring Sam Rainsy to return,” he said.
Ley said if Rainsy returned and was sent to prison, the CNRP would gain popularity, but he was sure “the bloodshed will come”, and stressed the best solution for the Cambodian people, the CPP and the opposition was a political compromise.