Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy facing uphill battle in wake of arrest warrant

Rainsy facing uphill battle in wake of arrest warrant

Rainsy facing uphill battle in wake of arrest warrant

100105_06
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks during a press conference with the Human Rights Party in January last year.

Observers remain divided on the eventual outcome of border incident.

ANALYSIS
Sebastian Strangio

BY uprooting six wooden stakes close to the Vietnamese border, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has again cast himself in a familiar role as the agent provocateur of Cambodian politics. The act, committed during a Buddhist ceremony in Svay Rieng on October 25, was small but symbolic: With attentions distracted by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s high-profile standoff with the Thai government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the border stunt gave voice to the enduring Khmer fear of Vietnamese domination and was a none-too-subtle hint about the cosy relationship between Hanoi and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

But with the issuing of an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy by Svay Rieng provincial court last week – effectively marooning the SRP leader overseas – the government has upped the ante on the opposition, and political observers have offered a mixed analysis on what moves it has left to play.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Monday that the party had “a clear policy” for negotiating Sam Rainsy’s return: the release from prison of those detained in land disputes with powerful business interests, including the two Svay Rieng villagers detained for involvement in the October 25 incident.

On the one hand, the fact that an arrest warrant is hanging over the opposition leader’s head is hardly novel. “Sam Rainsy has been out of the country around half of his time as opposition leader,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “This is nothing new.”

The most recent point of comparison is Sam Rainsy’s absence during 2005-06, when he lived in self-exile in France for a year after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity and sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison on criminal defamation charges. Sam Rainsy only returned to Cambodia in February 2006 after recanting comments about Hun Sen and receiving a Royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, described the issuing of an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy as a “political game” that could pose concerns for the opposition leader. He said it was hard to know if it would mirror the events of four years ago, but that if he remains overseas much longer it will be detrimental for the SRP. “You need all hands on deck in order to help build the country,” he said.

Despite the precedent of 2005-06, Ou Virak said that one new problem for Sam Rainsy is that repeated petitions to international organisations – one of the few cards the leader has left to play – could be falling on increasingly deaf ears. “You can do it once or twice, but governments get fatigued, donors get fatigued.… You’re running a risk of people no longer paying attention,” he said. “Eventually he’ll have to take it to the next level, and that means facing possible imprisonment.” And unlike 2005-06, he added, the prospect of a political settlement seems slim.

Writing in an email from Paris, Sam Rainsy said he would give the authorities time to respond to his “consistent and legitimate offers” before returning to Cambodia, but also held out the prospect of reassessing the situation with his colleagues and political allies if he receives no answer.

Either way, he said, his absence is unlikely to hurt the party. “By past experiences, I can say it affects the SRP only to a limited and manageable extent, but my ‘absence’ from Cambodia gives us many opportunities elsewhere,” he said.

His 2005-06 absence was compensated for by the “continuous presence on the spot of countless competent and dedicated colleagues at all levels”, Sam Rainsy said, pointing to the party’s successes at the 2007 commune council polls as evidence that it would not be detrimental to the party.

Others predicted a resolution to the issue on similar terms to 2006. Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said the current situation, like the earlier standoff, would likely reach an equilibrium before the next cycle of elections in 2012-13.

“[In 2005] the political space was narrowed down for more than a year and later on, when the election approached, the situation became better again,” he said, adding that the ruling party could not move towards a one-party state without undermining its democratic legitimacy. “When election time approaches, they have to show the public and that they believe in democratic principles in order to attract support,” he said.

Ou Virak, however, was not optimistic about the likelihood of Sam Rainsy returning to face jail. “He’s no Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said. “He’s not going to come back.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia rejects UN rights claim

    Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Friday hit back at David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression after he raised concerns over the repression of free speech and

  • Snaring may spawn diseases

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that snaring of animals has become a crisis that poses a serious risk to wildlife in Southeast Asia and could spawn the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans. Its July 9 report entitled Silence of the Snares: Southeast Asia’

  • Ex-party leader, gov’t critic named as secretary of state

    A former political party leader known for being critical of the government has been appointed secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, a royal decree dated July 9 said. Sourn Serey Ratha, the former president of the Khmer Power Party (KPP), told The Post

  • Residence cards set for over 80,000 immigrants

    The Ministry of Interior plans to grant residence cards to more than 80,000 immigrants to better keep track of them. The ministry announced the plan on July 10, following the results of an immigration census. “An inter-ministerial committee and many operational working groups have been set up

  • Kingdom produces PPE gear

    Medical supplies from Cambodia have been donated to member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to assist in the fight against Covid-19, said an ADB report published on July 9. The report stated that the supplies were donated as a response to global efforts to

  • Kingdom, US vow stronger ties

    At an academic forum on Saturday to celebrate 70 years of Cambodia-US diplomatic ties, Cambodian researchers and officials expressed hope of encouraging US investments and for that country to deepen and improve its bilateral relations. Held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, it reviewed the past 70

  • Fifteen Cambodians from Saudi get Covid-19

    The Ministry of Health on Sunday confirmed 15 more imported cases of Covid. The 15 men ‒ all Cambodian aged 21 to 33 ‒ arrived from Saudi Arabia on Friday via a connecting flight in Malaysia. They were travelling with 79 other passengers, three of them women. The ministry said 80 of the

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The