Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday dismissed speculation that Kem Sokha’s legal case would end soon, despite the court closing its investigation and reducing his bail conditions.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court eased Sokha’s bail conditions on November 10, allowing him to travel freely in the country, more than two years after he was charged with treason.
The decision came following a request by his lawyers considering his health condition and good cooperation with the court.
The former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested in September 2017 and charged with “conspiracy with a foreign power”. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if found guilty.
In September last year, he was granted bail on condition he remained at his house in the capital’s Tuol Kork district. This came after he had spent a year in the Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province.
Speaking during a graduation ceremony of nearly 2,000 students at the National Institute of Education on Monday, Hun Sen said it was up to the court to decide whether to drop the charge or proceed with the case.
Without directly naming Sokha, the prime minister stressed that he could not receive a royal pardon before a final verdict was delivered.
“Some people said this individual will be freed after the court closed its investigation. You can make any speculation you want, but remember that the court proceedings will not end in a few days or a few months. It takes a long time.
“Some people said there will be a pardon by the King soon. But how could that be possible when there is no guilty verdict yet?” he asked.
Hun Sen said that only the court can decide when to proceed with the case and that the government would not interfere.
He also ruled out the possibility of a snap election as part of his national reconciliation efforts, which could see the reinstatement of former CNRP officials who have been barred from politics and public office after the party’s dissolution.
The prime minister said the commune council elections and the national elections will take place as scheduled in May 2022 and July 2023, respectively.
Referring to former CNRP commune councillors, he said they would not be reinstated or get a salary.
“Some are still looking forward to becoming commune chiefs, deputy commune chiefs and so on. They said they would regain their salary. No!
“The election will be held in May 2022 as scheduled. That is the mandate set for commune council elections,” he said.
“So those who are working in their current positions will stay, and those who are outside will continue to be counted out,” he said, referring to former CNRP officials who have joined his ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Hun Sen also mocked Rainsy, who he said had repeatedly promised to return to the Kingdom peacefully while persuading the army to turn their weapons at the prime minister.
“How can you claim it is peaceful when at the same time you announce that you have a budget in place to support the army in opposing the government?
“His claims are contradictory, so the government has no option but to do whatever it takes to protect the people. You should understand the word ‘at all costs’. We try to avoid death, damages, and chaos in the country,” he said.
The Royal Academy of Cambodia president, Sok Touch, echoed Hun Sen’s remarks.
He said Sokha’s case could end only following a final verdict and a royal pardon.
He noted that Sokha’s fate might depend more or less on the EU Commission’s dealing regarding Cambodia’s access to the bloc’s Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement.
“What is important is the EU’s attitude. If the EU eases the pressure with regard to EBA, then Kem Sokha’s case would be dealt with very quickly. The political tactic goes hand in hand with the US’ General System of Preferences.
“Now, the US is getting closer to Cambodia and having a gentler foreign policy to Cambodia. So, if the US plays a softer role, Kem Sokha’s case would be ended.
“Then there will be a new political force which forms a strong competition,” Touch said.