Embattled opposition leader Kem Sokha wants to put the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s leadership team back together as he hinted that CNRP President Sam Rainsy should return to the country.
“If Sam Rainsy is with me, it is better than if I am leading alone,” he told NewsChannel Asia on Tuesday. “If he decides not to come we will still continue leading the party forward through the party mechanisms.”
Sam Rainsy has been living abroad off and on for years as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has charged him with a number of offenses that observers inside and outside Cambodia see as politically motivated.
On September 26th, Sam Rainsy told BBC News that he plans to go back to Cambodia two or three weeks before the 2018 national election even if he risks arrest.
Even though he is living in the CNRP headquarters, acting party leader Kem Sokha said he wasn’t going to follow Rainsy out of the country.
“If they arrest me, the people will protest, so I trust the people,” he said. “If they unjustly arrest me, Cambodia will have a big problem. People will disagree with the government, so there will be big chaos.”
Cambodian political science scholar So Chantha said the country would be better off if the two opposition politicians work together inside the country.
“I want politicians to be able talk and negotiate with each other in order to solve problems,” he said. “Politicians should gain trust from the people rather than let them get tired and hopeless or let them think that politics is dangerous.”
In 2013, King Norodom Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Sam Rainsy. The pardon absolved Sam Rainsy of defamation charges allowing him to return to Cambodia without being put in jail
Even though he was ineligible for candidacy in the 2013 general election, thousands of his supporters thronged the streets when he returned.
The CNRP gained 55 seats in the National Assembly in that election, but the party and international observers found evidence of fraud and the CNRP boycotted parliament from September 2013 until July 2014.
In November 2015, Sam Rainsy was again removed from parliament by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) when a warrant was issued for his arrest after being convicted of defaming former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong with the claim that the CPP politician ran a prison in the 1970s for the bloody Khmer Rouge regime.
Kem Sokha has been acting president of the CNRP since that time, but he has been under virtual house arrest since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.
On Sept. 9 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that Kem Sokha was guilty of refusing to appear for questioning in a prostitution case against him, and he was sentenced to five months in prison and given a fine of 800,000 riel ($200).
Kem Sokha is accused of procuring a prostitute in relation to his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty. Despite being summoned twice in May, he refused to appear in court to answer questions about the prostitution allegations.
His legal problems are also seen as politically motivated.
Reported by Leng Maly for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Taing Sarada. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.