Speculation continues over if and when Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy will return to Cambodia, where he now faces a two-year prison term, as grassroots opposition members yesterday expressed “disappointment” at their leader’s continued absence.
CNRP officials will meet today in Phnom Penh to discuss the way forward after the decision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday to enforce a long-dormant 2011 defamation and incitement conviction for alleging, in 2008, that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong ran a Khmer Rouge prison.
Rainsy, who was on Monday stripped of his position as a lawmaker and his parliamentary immunity by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, had promised supporters at a weekend event in South Korea that he would return to Cambodia on Monday as scheduled.
However, at 4pm that day, he reneged on the pledge, saying he would return “in a few days” on the counsel of party colleagues and international pro-democracy groups.
Yesterday, opposition party spokesman Eng Chhay Eang was tightlipped on Rainsy’s schedule.
However, Yim Sinorn, an opposition organiser in South Korea who has been in contact with Rainsy and CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha, said the leaders were still in South Korea but planned to fly to the Philippines today.
Sinorn, a South Korea-based member of the Khmer Workers Youth Movement, added that Rainsy was then, “in principle”, scheduled to fly to Europe for a month before then returning to Cambodia, though he stressed the plans could be changed.
Rainsy – who said he wanted to arrive in Cambodia in “broad daylight” and allow time to negotiate a peaceful solution – did not respond to repeated requests for comment yesterday.
The opposition leader did, however, take to Facebook to denounce the arrest warrant against him and note he had beaten Namhong’s accusations in a French court.
Rainsy suggested the government was spooked because the recent victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy over Myanmar’s military junta in recent elections foreshadowed the CPP’s own demise.
However, Rainsy’s regular comparisons between the CNRP and NLD appear to be backfiring, with analysts noting that Rainsy’s seeming reluctance to confront a jail sentence contrasts starkly with Suu Kyi’s willingness to spend 15 years under house arrest.
And though Rainsy appears to have the support of his senior officials, who say the decision to delay his return was to avoid potential unrest and violence, grassroots CNRP members yesterday warned their leader he risked his credibility by staying away.
Kong Seun, a CNRP organiser from Siem Reap, said though he supported moves to avoid violence, his leader needed to return soon.
“He has to come back to Cambodia, it’s his responsibility to the nation. If he doesn’t come back soon, then it’s the end of his political life,” Seun said.
Seng Rotha, a member of the CNRP’s working group in Siem Reap, said he was “very disappointed” upon learning Rainsy would not return on Monday.
“He should come to Cambodia and face any problems, because this is the only way that we can prove how cruel is Hun Sen and how brave and responsible Mr Sam Rainsy is, too,” Rotha said.
“He may have plans to make some compromise in the future, but I don’t think the process of compromise or dialogue or conversation could have fruitful results; things can be worse, because Hun Sen will use other means.
He should not trust Hun Sen any longer.”
Rotha added that Rainsy needed to show leadership for opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour and 15 CNRP activists imprisoned on charges also widely believed politically motivated.
Yesterday, the families of opposition activists locked up on insurrection charges stemming from anti-government protests last year threw their support behind Rainsy.
Nov Phoeung, 59, the mother of Neang Sokhun, a detained opposition youth leader, said she thought Rainsy had done the right thing.
“I believe that he is fearful . . . he is afraid of the arrest . . . but he is also afraid of the bloody clash among Cambodians.”
Mak Chan, 40, the wife of Sum Puthy, an imprisoned CNRP district council member, said: “I still strongly believe in Sam Rainsy who will never let his people and supporters down.”
Chum Chanthul, 26, construction foreman
Delaying Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia is for the best because it will reduce the chance of violence, however he will lose supporters if he does not come back soon. I think that the Western investors will leave Cambodia quickly if he is arrested by government officials, and this is a concern for all Cambodian people.
Sam Dara, 29, management student
To me, if a leader of a party cannot follow through on what he said he would do, he is a bit weak, but I am sure that [Sam Rainsy] has his own reasons not to come. I think although he knows that it will cause a problem, he should come no matter what might happen to strengthen his cause, because all the people are waiting to see him.
Meng Sokun, 32, management student
To me, it’s important for a leader to face challenges, even if there are obstacles, and use all strategies to lead the country in peace. He must ask himself if he is a leader or if he is being lead by others. However, I could not say if not coming back was the wrong thing to do because different people follow different strategies.
Som Ream, 58, security guard
When an election is approaching, the government leader always makes efforts to find all the methods to accuse the leader of opposition party, Sam Rainsy, and Rainsy always goes abroad. But then, later, the government agrees to pardon him . . . This is a political game. If Sam Rainsy comes or not is not important . . . All the Cambodian people want change.
Sok Chea, 32, cosmetics vendor
I think that Rainsy will be back after an intervention from the international community, such as the US government and European Union. And he will not be arrested because if the government really wanted to arrest him, they would not allow him to go abroad. This is the game of the politicians in our country.
Prak Sieha, 34, motodop
I am a strong believer that the CNRP will win, or at least gain more seats, in 2018. Rainsy has never betrayed his supporters. But he loves and feels for them and does not want them to get injured or die by protesting. Some people say that by delaying his return, Rainsy is excusing himself from responsibility . . . but, for me, he is still a hero in the hearts of Khmer people.