Opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Saturday suggested he would not return to Cambodia as he had previously promised, saying that like liberators King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Charles de Gaulle, he would only do so at a “favourable time”.
“I will go back to Cambodia in 2019, not to let Hun Sen arrest me, but to ensure that millions of Cambodians will rise up to arrest Hun Sen and prosecute him for treason,” Rainsy claimed in early February.
Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who also has a bet riding with Prime Minister Hun Sen in which returning to face arrest for outstanding legal cases is his forfeit, told Radio Free Asia that he would not be “so ignorant to be arrested or killed easily”.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen on Saturday posted a message on Facebook – seemingly aimed at Rainsy – that his “golfing partner” had cheated, hitting his ball into the water but taking a new ball without taking the penalty.
In November, Sam Rainsy made the prime minister a wager that Kem Sokha, the president of the former CNRP, would have his treason charge dropped by March 3.
He based his argument on the legal procedure that a person charged in a criminal case must face trial no longer than 18 months after their arrest. March 3 will bring that 18-month period to an end.
Rainsy said he would return to the Kingdom to face arrest should he lose, with the prime minister stepping down if he lost. Hun Sen accepted the bet.
Sokha, the co-founder of the CNRP with Rainsy, was arrested on September 3, 2017 and charged with treason. He was released on bail in September last year under court supervision.
But in the countdown to March 3, Rainsy posted on Facebook on Saturday a Radio Free Asia video interview in which he says his return to the Kingdom depended on the situation.
He said he would not come back to be killed like political analyst Kem Ley and that to be arrested like Kem Sokha would not help the nation. Ley was shot dead at a petrol station cafe in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016.
Rainsy raised the example of King Sihanouk, who after being deposed as prime minister in the Lon Nol coup of 1970 left for China. He said King Sihanouk only returned at a “favourable time”.
He also used the examples of Hun Sen, who fled to Vietnam to escape the Khmer Rouge, and Charles de Gaulle, who flew to London after the Fall of France in 1940 before helping liberate his country from Nazi Germany.
“Now the situation in Cambodia is the same. If I let Hun Sen arrest me, I would become Kem Ley or Kem Sokha. Now Kem Ley is a hero, but can he help liberate [the country] from dictatorship? No."
“Kem Sokha allowed Hun Sen to arrest him. He was transferred from detention in prison to be detained at home, [but] he has no freedom. Can he help the people? Can he help push the international community?” Rainsy said.
When asked how sure he was of returning, Rainsy said: “I won’t be too ignorant to be arrested easily or to be killed easily. Whatever we do, we must make the people win. We must organise a plan which will be successful. We [can’t just] let them smash us easily.”
Rainsy said Hun Sen’s first options would be to arrest him or have him killed using a third party. But he said these would not be successful because he would not return to Cambodia but rather wait until the people or the military rose up.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Rainsy would not return.
“[His vow to return] was just a way to attract attention so people [in Cambodia] and the international community don’t forget him. In general, he never keeps his promises . . . but he always claims that he won."
“Whether he wins or loses, he won’t return. He won’t respect the bet. He won’t return and is looking for a pretext to escape the bet, such as by claiming he won in the people’s hearts. It is language to help him evade taking responsibility,” he said.
Phea compared Rainsy’s promise to the Cambodian saying which goes: “The more you lie, the more you lose.” He said the people would not trust him and neither would the international community.
But political analyst Em Sovannara took the opposite view. He said laying the bet was a tactic advantageous to Rainsy.
“He said he won’t return with the situation as it is, meaning he would if there was a turning point such as international pressure mounting or an uprising inside the country by the people or the military."
“So the bet was just a political tactic. It’s not a game with a decent referee because in Cambodia there are many poisonous politicians,” he claimed.
Sovannara said he thought that even though Rainsy wouldn’t return as promised, his supporters would not blame him because they understand his position.
“There is no other politician who can face up to the prime minister or who has his level of support. So he is still an important politician,” he claimed.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay had previously predicted that there were three risks Rainsy could possibly face if he returned to Cambodia.
In late January, Mong Hay wrote on his Facebook page that Rainsy would either be arrested and jailed like his CNRP co-founder Kem Sokha who was charged with treason.
Rainsy could also be beaten like former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan when he returned to Phnom Penh in 1991, or he would be killed like Philippines senator Benigno Aquino, the rival of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.