WIth just 20 days to go until the end of a timeframe used in a wager by Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) “acting president” Sam Rainsy to release party president Kem Sokha, Prime Minister Hun Sen posted song lyrics on Facebook seemingly mocking his political rival.
In November, Rainsy offered Hun Sen a bet that CNRP co-founder Kem Sokha, who is currently on bail awaiting trial, would have his treason charge dropped between December 29 and March 3.
He based his prediction on the legal grounds that a person cannot remain charged for longer than 18 months without the case reaching trial. March 3 will bring that 18-month period to an end.
Sokha was released on bail under court supervision on September 10 last year.
Rainsy, who lives in France to escape a slew of court charges and sentencing, said he would return to Cambodia to face legal proceedings should he lose the bet and challenged the prime minister to step down if this happened.
Hun Sen accepted the bet, announcing he would resign should Sokha have the charge dropped within the set period.
And time is running out. Last week, media outlet Fresh News started counting down the days.
Hun Sen on Friday posted slightly altered lyrics to a 1960s pop song, which analysts believe were aimed at Rainsy.
“Partridge cried out, but ibis didn’t reply/My fiance, is it the time or not? I am impassionate because you are malevolent/The bridge collapsed and the water is deep, how could you come as promised?” Hun Sen wrote.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the prime minister’s lyrics were meant to mock Rainsy.
“The meaning of the lyrics is that Sam Rainsy will not return as he promised in the bet. I believe that Sam Rainsy will not return, no matter how much he is mocked or pushed to."
“He is not brave enough to face jail like Kem Sokha. History has proven that Rainsy never faces the law,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay condemned the nature of a bet that used Sokha’s liberty as its subject.
“It is unethical, and even our prime minister who is a party to the bet has called it ‘immoral’,” he said, adding that it was highly unlikely Sokha would have the charge dropped in the stipulated period.
Phea said Rainsy did not want to see Sokha free of legal wranglings.
His view was echoed by analyst Meas Nee, who said he believed Rainsy initiated the bet to have Sokha remain facing trial to ramp up pressure from the international community.
“The victim is Kem Sokha, while the danger is the EU withdrawing Cambodia’s access to its [preferential] EBA [Everything But Arms] agreement,” Nee said.
“This would be a danger to the CNRP and Cambodia as a whole. The CNRP is facing an almost complete split because of this bet. And [Hun Sen] has no option but to detain Kem Sokha in order to win the bet,” he said, adding that the wager was of no benefit to anyone.
Nee said he was suspicious of Rainsy claiming he will return this year. If Rainsy were to return without being arrested, the government would run the risk of Rainsy increasing his popularity. One way to avoid this was to not allow Rainsy to return.
Mong Hay said there was no dishonour in Hun Sen and Rainsy reviving the culture of dialogue they opened in 2014 and end their political conflict.
“They should do so for the sake of the country and its religion, and as an expression of their own and the nation’s devotion and gratitude to Lord Buddha on the important Buddhist Magha Puja Day on February 19. The King could and should use his constitutional prerogative to start the process,” he said.
Phea said he believed it was just a matter of time before Sokha was free of his treason charge. He said Sokha would not rejoin Rainsy but stick with his supporters within the CNRP.
“And then Sam Rainsy would remain outside the Kingdom,” he said.