Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) “acting president” Sam Rainsy on Wednesday claimed his notorious wager with Prime Minister Hun Sen over the fate of Kem Sokha was null and void, arguing his opponent had changed the terms of the bet.
With the March 3 deadline edging closer, Rainsy accused the prime minister of “backtracking” in a message posted on Facebook.
“The bet between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen on the release of Kem Sokha has ended because Hun Sen changed its terms. He originally said Kem Sokha would never be released. He later backtracked and said that Kem Sokha would never be released without a royal pardon.
“The change of terms by one side in any bet makes that bet invalid,” he wrote.
However, while talking to factory workers in Takeo province on November 7 last year, Hun Sen said he could not request a royal pardon for Sokha as he had not been convicted of a crime. He also mocked Rainsy, telling him to wait until a “horse grows horns” before Sokha would be released.
Conditions of the bet
Hun Sen’s comments came in response to a claim made by Rainsy earlier in the month that Sokha would have to be free of his charge by no later than March 3, which would mark 18 months since his arrest– the maximum length of time before someone charged with an offence must face trial or have the charge dropped.
On November 9, Rainsy initiated the bet regarding Sokha’s release with the prime minister. He said if CNRP co-founder Sokha was released between December 29 last year and March 3, Hun Sen must step down. If he was not released, he vowed to return to the Kingdom to face the multiple outstanding charges he faces.
On Saturday, Rainsy seemed to indicate he would not honour his side of the agreement when he posted on Facebook that he would only return to the Kingdom at a “favourable time”.
Sokha was initially arrested at his home on September 3, 2017 under allegations of treason, after it was alleged he was conspiring with the US to provoke a ‘colour revolution’.
Kin Phea, the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute director-general said he believed the conditions of the bet had not been altered. He added that Rainsy initiated the bet with the intention of forcing Hun Sen to show he had ultimate authority over the judiciary, particularly with respect to the case of Sokha.
“Rainsy attempted to show that the executive branch [of government] had power over the court case. Another part of the strategy was to make Hun Sen angry and get a response from him, therefore making Rainsy appear to be an important figure in conflict with the prime minister,” Phea said.
He continued that claiming the bet was null and void as the deadline approached was an attempt by Rainsy to get out of its terms, not take moral responsibility and avoid being accused of breaking his word.
“Breaking such a promise would discredit his reputation among his supporters and the public who were waiting for the result of the bet,” Phea said.
Political analyst Meas Nee was of the view that both Rainsy and Hun Sun had both won and lost in this tussle.
“We can see that the power is in the hands of Hun Sen whether or not to release Sokha. If he wants to win, he won’t release him."
“For Rainsy, what he wanted was not the release of Sokha, but he wanted to show whether the judiciary was under the control of Hun Sen. When Hun Sen said to ‘wait until a horse grows horns’, Rainsy won in terms of proving that the judiciary is not independent,” he said.
Nee continued that Rainsy had also lost the bet as he had shown he is not brave enough to return to Cambodia as he claimed, while Hun Sen has also lost as keeping Sokha under court custody may cause problems, such as the EU’s possible withdrawal of Cambodia’s access to its preferential Everything But Arms agreement.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Rainsy offered the bet on the assumption that Hun Sen exercised power over the judiciary and that international pressure, particularly from the EU, would compel the prime minister to release Sokha.
He also pointed out that Rainsy’s assumption that Sokha would have to be tried by the end of 18 months in pre-trial detention was false as the former opposition leader is under court supervision at his home, and thereby able to remain there indefinitely.
“Rainsy did not do his sums right when he decided to offer the wager. He was right in assuming the prime minister’s power over the judiciary, but the latter has handled it to make Rainsy’s assumptions – if there were such assumptions – all erroneous,” Mong Hay said.