Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended his decision to accept a “bet” offered by opposition figure Sam Rainsy involving the “release” of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha, denying it violated the authority of the courts.
The leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement had fallen into his own “trap” by offering what the prime minister called a bet for Rainsy’s “political life”.
Last week, Rainsy and Hun Sen publicly announced a wager on the possible “release” of Sokha, who is on bail awaiting trial on treason charges.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) executive director Koul Panha said the bet had “violated the power of the courts”.
However, on Sunday night Hun Sen denied he had done so in accepting Rainsy’s offer.
“I just said that in relation to the authority of the prime minister, no part [of what I said] violates the authority of the court,” Hun Sen said on Facebook.
He explained that the prime minister does not have the right to request a royal pardon for someone who has yet to be convicted, and Rainsy must wait until “the horse grows horns” before such a development occurred.
“Based on existing law, even [if] you wait for 1,000 years, a pardon can’t be given to a person who has not been sentenced or convicted by the court or the verdict is not final,” he said.
Hun Sen said he had asked his lawyers to collect evidence as to what Rainsy had said regarding the bet.
“The one who likes to attack me [Rainsy] . . . he does not listen to and study what I say . . . that is why he set a trap for me. Now he himself has fallen into the trap."
“Because this bet is a bet for his political life, the one I bet with is the political criminal so it requires me to present evidence, and I have requested my lawyers to collect the evidence,” Hun Sen said.
Comfrel’s Panha said: “The prime minister continues to violate the court system, which had made political justice and the rule of law become weaker and weaker. [The court] has neither the right nor the power to punish political leaders.”
In an interview with Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service on Friday, Rainsy said Hun Sen had “fallen into my trap” and revealed himself to be a “dictator who is using the courts as a political tool”.
“Hun Sen always claims that he respects the decisions of the judiciary, but as he is an individual even though he is the prime minister. How can he make a decision on behalf of the courts?”
“When Hun Sen dared to bet with me [over Sokha], he lost. [By doing so] he has acknowledged that he is the court [system],” Rainsy was quoted as saying.
Rainsy said that because of “international pressure” Hun Sen’s government would release Sokha between December 29, 2018, and March 3, 2019, while Hun Sen rejected the idea was possible.
He then called on Hun Sen to accept a bet on the possibility, promising to “walk into jail” and be detained with Sokha if he “lost”.
“If Mr Hun Sen loses the bet with me … I am asking him to step down, but if I lose, I will walk into jail and be detained with Kem Sokha,” Rainsy claimed on Friday.
Responding the same day, Hun Sen told Fresh News that he accepted Rainsy’s wager and promised to step down as prime minister if he lost.
On Monday, political analyst Em Sovannara said that using “hostages” to gain political advantage was not a good tactic. He called on both politicians to respect the court system.
“I think if politicians use individuals as hostages to gain popularity and advantage, it is not a good [tactic]. They should think of another way [to do so] and not use human issues so [coldly],” he said.
Sovannara said if Hun Sen and Rainsy continue to do so the consequence would be that both would “lose the people’s trust”.