A facebook post over the weekend claimed Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Sam Rainsy will return to Cambodia “before Khmer New Year” after moving to France to avoid arrest on a slew of outstanding legal cases and sentences.
The post said Rainsy would be accompanied by other senior CNRP officials who moved abroad after being banned from politics when the opposition party was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November last year.
On Facebook last week, senior CNRP officials Um Virakroath and Eng Chhai Eang posted: “Let’s go back home.”
The post added: “Mr President Sam Rainsy will lead all CNRP officials who are living abroad to return to the motherland before Khmer New Year. We will go to pick up Mr President [and greet him]. We offer to join Mr President Sam Rainsy.”
Rainsy could not be reached for comment over his possible return on Sunday.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP member of the National Assembly for Kandal province, said Rainsy had in the past announced many times that he would return but then failed to do so.
“In the past, there have been many [such] declarations but then we did not see his return, so we don’t know whether this is [just] another political tactic in announcing a return. I am not convinced he will come back."
“If he does return, I believe the authorities may take action because he has many outstanding legal cases. But [on whether Rainsy’s return would] affect [CNRP] president Kem Sokha, there [will likely] be no effect.”
CNRP president Sokha is currently on bail at his home awaiting trial on treason charges.
Chanrath said that “some supporters may go to greet Sam Rainsy and we don’t know whether the authorities would allow this”.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak told The Post on Sunday that he did not believe Rainsy would return to Cambodia while he still had outstanding legal cases.
This includes a one-year, eight-month prison sentence for defamation after claiming the “state” was responsible for the assassination of political analyst Kem Ley in 2016, and a five-year jail term for his involvement in the dissemination of forged Cambodia-Vietnam border documents.
Kong Korm, a former CNRP senior adviser, said regardless of whether the declaration of his return came from pro-Rainsy party officials or from Rainsy himself, he was also unconvinced it would happen.
He said he suspected that the announcement was merely a tactic in order to boost the morale of his supporters.
Korm told The Post on Sunday: “I see that he has a lot of legal cases outstanding and verdicts [against him that are still effective]. He does not want to challenge these issues. In the past, he has only returned after receiving a royal pardon in the cases he was facing.
“I would say [this is] a tactic to make his supporters not lose confidence and morale.”
A former president of the Sam Rainsy Party, which merged with Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012 to form the CNRP, Korm has been critical of Rainsy recently, accusing him of “arrogance” and having “betrayed the people’s will”.
Rainsy was nominated “acting president” of the CNRP at an international conference the former opposition party held in the US in early December, a move supporters of the previous leader Kem Sokha blasted as “unacceptable”.
The pro-Rainsy camp at the international conference in Atlanta, Georgia, argued that the CNRP needed an acting president to reignite it after it had been dissolved by the court and its president arrested for treason.
“To ensure the CNRP has a good leader who can struggle effectively to demand the release of Kem Sokha, maintain the hope of Cambodian people who want positive change and prevent a deadlock, we have to initiate this move to make sure the party is going forward,” a statement said.