Opposition leader Sam Rainsy hit the ground running yesterday, accepting one challenge from Prime Minister Hun Sen and issuing another of his own as he arrived back in Phnom Penh after a month abroad drumming up support for the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The comments from Rainsy follow a speech by Hun Sen to parliament earlier this week in which the premier challenged his rival to swear an oath by the Preah Ang Danker statue near the Royal Palace. Rainsy would swear by his belief that the 2013 election was rigged and that the Cambodian Red Cross was politically motivated in its disbursement of aid, which, according to tradition, would result in his death by lightning if proved false, Hun Sen said at the time.
Taking up the challenge, Rainsy said yesterday that he was prepared to swear the oath, and also challenged the prime minister to a different way of settling the matter of the 2013 election’s outcome.
“The oath is a superstition, and we need to focus on the technical and scientific. If we want to emphasise that, we need to count the election votes from 2013 again. Just open the boxes and bags and do it technically, then we will surely know the truth. But I can take the oath anytime,” Rainsy said yesterday.
Following the general election in 2013, the CNRP claimed that there was credible evidence of election irregularities, a claim backed up by international election monitors. The unwillingness of the opposition to join a parliament they saw as illegitimate led to almost a year of street protests and political deadlock, which ended with a cross-party agreement in July last year.
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said any plans for oath-taking would depend on talks between the two leaders under the “culture of dialogue”.
“I cannot guess when that might be, but as Samdech Hun Sen has said, he will talk to Sam Rainsy to decide about taking the oath,” Eysan said.
He repeated the CPP position that there was no voter fraud during the 2013 election.
Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the National Election Committee (NEC), said that the current NEC members – who were selected by both parties as part of the July 2014 agreement – were not responsible for settling the seemingly ongoing dispute between the two parties over the last election.
“This case depends on the past NEC who was overseeing the voting,” he said.
The previous incarnation of the NEC was widely thought to favour the ruling party.
Rainsy also said he planned to raise the issue of the Cambodia-Vietnam border demarcation with Hun Sen.
“The dialogue should be based on truth and justice, and I believe Cambodians living along the borders are victims. They have lost their land and country,” he said.
In a meeting with Vietnamese politburo member Le Hong Anh this week, Hun Sen reportedly requested that his Vietnamese counterparts not publicly raise the border issue.
“Samdech insisted to keep the status quo along the border, which means to remain quiet. He does not want to affect the current situation, especially in areas which have not been agreed on, they have to keep the status quo,” said Kao Kim Hourn, a minister attached to the prime minister’s office.
The border issue with Vietnam has been at the forefront of Cambodian politics for many years, but has recently flared up again over alleged encroachment of Vietnamese security forces on Cambodian territory and CNRP accusations that the government was using an unofficial map to chart the border.
Hun Sen also on Monday made a formal request to all local television networks to rebroadcast a marathon five-hour speech he gave in 2012 where he explained his government’s border demarcation plan.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that although the premier would like to see TV stations rebroadcast his speech, it was merely a suggestion and dependent upon available airtime.
“It’s a request by Hun Sen, but it depends on the time slots,” he explained. “We have to find available time.”