Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out in public yesterday at opposition leader Sam Rainsy, accusing him of high-tailing it out of the country in fear so as to avoid a prison sentence that has barred him from running in the national election in July.
Speaking to several hundred people at a ceremony to mark the completion of the Num temple at Nunmony pagoda, in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, Hun Sen responded to comments by Rainsy a few days ago, when he called the premier a “coward” for allegedly blocking him from standing in the election.
“There is a guy that said that I am a coward; I would like to send a verbal message that I didn’t push you [Rainsy] out of the country ,and I never put a ban on you entering the country,” Hun Sen said.
“I would like to be clear and confirm to people in this country and [around] the world that there is no one barring him. Please come.”
Hun Sen said Rainsy should resign as head of the opposition party, because he was always leading the party to election losses.
“I’ve beaten you three times already, and if I were you I’d resign as party leader,” he said.
Rights groups, foreign governments and civil society have urged the government to allow all political participants, including Rainsy, to compete in the July elections.
But because of his criminal conviction, Rainsy is barred from running for office in Cambodia.
Rainsy has lived in self-exile since 2010 after Cambodian courts sentenced him in absentia to a total of 12 years on a host of charges, including uprooting a post on Cambodia’s border with Vietnam and producing Google maps he used to allege territorial encroachment.