Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said on Saturday that he would return to the Kingdom when people rose up against Prime Minister Hun Sen in the aftermath of the loss of significant export agreements.
Currently living in France to avoid a slew of convictions, Rainsy told Radio Free Asia (RFA) of the “favourable time” to end the “dictatorship” in Cambodia and with it “nepotism”.
He said Hun Sen had lied to the people when he said China’s help would solve any problems the Kingdom faced should the EU withdraw Cambodia’s access to its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.
He said if the EU were to withdraw EBA access and the US did the same with its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme, Hun Sen would be responsible.
He claimed that other powers would support the deposing of Hun Sen because of his tilt towards China and his allowing the Asian giant to allegedly build a naval base in Cambodia.
He said this would affect the interests of other powers and the Kingdom’s neighbours, especially regarding ongoing tensions in the South China Sea.
“That’s when people have to rise up and that’s when Sam Rainsy returns to Cambodia. That’s when factories close their doors and workers get angry and curse Hun Sen, asking why he had dissolved the CNRP and why he had arrested Kem Sokha."
“When he was told to release Kem Sokha and allow the CNRP to operate again to avoid sanctions, Hun Sen ignored the calls and let Cambodia suffer."
“He thought that the people were happy, especially workers, but [they] said: ‘No, everything [we are now facing] is because of Hun Sen.’
“To solve these problems, the only way is to depose Hun Sen. This is the favourable time when I will return to Cambodia – when the workers rise up, when people who have lost their land rise up, when people who are in debt rise up, when jobless students rise up, when the military who get low salaries but are exploited by their commanders rise up,” he said.
He said any such uprising would receive support from the international community because it would be monitoring his return.
“That’s when we will see the armed forces and [foreign] countries push for change in Cambodia,” he said.
Rainsy claimed there were movements inside the country that would persuade the military to support them directly and indirectly against the “dictatorship”.
Analysts said they regarded Rainsy’s remarks as purely political because the situation he described would not take place in the near future.
Social analyst Meas Nee said Rainsy could only return to Cambodia when he had strong support from inside the country. He said he could not see the government being toppled at present.
“The government is doing its utmost to stop this kind of psychological warfare. I think the government is afraid of Rainsy’s return, even though there is only a small possibility of this happening,” he said.
Nee said Rainsy wanted to see an uprising similar to what had happened in Venezuela, where the leader of the opposition had returned home and was welcomed by a large number of people.
But he said the situation in Venezuela was different from that of Cambodia, where the opposition party needed further struggle.
He queried whether the more than three million supporters of the former CNRP were fully united.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said Rainsy’s talk of an uprising would not have any effect for now because CNRP support inside the country had been restricted and weakened.
“If action is taken against Cambodia by means of the withdrawal of EBA or GSP, or by other methods, in five to 10 years’ time something like that [uprising] may be feasible."
“But for now or in one to two years, such an occurrence won’t take place. [Rainsy] has just said he won’t return at this time,” Sovannara said.
Rainsy’s comments were purely intended to raise the spirits of his supporters and cause concern among members of the government, he added.
Nee said any uprising by the people would lead to bloodshed, and any change born of bloodshed should be avoided.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said Rainsy’s comments showed he was “a coward and an opportunist”.
“They mean he wants to portray himself as the one behind any uprising and this is cowardice. It is also a message saying that he is not brave enough to return."
“Any uprising is impossible in Cambodia because the government was formed from landslide support [in the last elections],” Siphan stressed.