Upset at internal divisions within the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Prince Sisowath Thomico yesterday said he will push for a vote on whether party president Sam Rainsy should return from overseas when the opposition’s steering committee meets this week.
Rainsy went into self-imposed exile almost a year ago after the government resurrected a years-old defamation case against him while he was abroad. Despite vowing to return at the time, he instead again returned to France to avoid imprisonment. In recent weeks, the government formalised his exile, saying he was barred from entering the country, a move decried as unconstitutional.
Thomico’s plans to call for a vote on Rainsy’s return follow a statement on Facebook on Friday that said he would leave the party if its leadership did not sort out factional splits.
Speaking yesterday, he said the top leaders’ different approaches to court action against them – Rainsy’s flight abroad and CNRP vice president Kem Sokha’s decision to stay in Cambodia – had divided supporters and MPs and needed to be openly addressed by the party’s leadership.
“It’s not up to Sam Rainsy to decide by himself; he’s the president of the party, so it is the party that has to decide whether Sam Rainsy comes back or not,” said Thomico, who officially joined the party in 2013 and made an unsuccessful run for an assembly seat for Preah Sihanouk province. “In the end, Sam Rainsy will decide for himself, but the party has to decide and have a common stance.”
Though the party initially backed Rainsy’s decision to flee after he was hit with a two-year prison sentence in November last year in a case widely considered politically motivated, opinion has started to shift in recent weeks.
Sokha told Channel News Asia recently he’d like the party president to return, while Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya, a CNRP official, has openly criticised Rainsy on social media.
Reached yesterday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party’s steering committee unanimously supported Rainsy’s choice of self-exile in a vote last year. He declined to say whether another vote was warranted, given a year had passed. “I respect the decision of the standing committee,” Sovann said.
Last week, Rainsy, who did not return a request for comment yesterday, said he remained determined to return.