PHNOM PENH — The return of Cambodia’s main opposition leader remains in doubt, with no political deal forthcoming from the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen, despite warnings from the US and others that a leaderless opposition could hurt the legitimacy of the July 2013 polls.
However, speaking to VOA Khmer by phone from Paris, where he remains in exile, Sam Rainsy, who now heads the new opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said there is still time.
“In only 24 hours, things can be changed,” he said.
Sam Rainsy is facing up to 12 years in prison in Cambodia on charges he says are politically motivated.
In a brief meeting with Hun Sen last month, US President Barack Obama said the US is concerned with Cambodia’s political environment leading into the polls and that opposition parties need the freedom to operate.
And UN special rights envoy Surya Subedi has called for the return of Sam Rainsy if the 2013 election is to be considered legitimate.
Hun Sen, however, has said Sam Rainsy’s case is a matter for the courts, and that there will be no political deal.
Sam Rainsy said Monday he felt like there is “still time to wait” over the next seven months.
Koul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said he still is hopeful for a political settlement and Sam Rainsy’s return.
“There are ways, from international intervention to dialogue between politicians and ordinary citizens that can push those at political levels to think about the problem,” he said.
Sam Rainsy’s status as an indicted criminal makes him ineligible to vote or run for office, and the National Election Committee has removed his name from the national voter registry.
Koul Panha said that no matter whether he returns, Sam Rainsy will not have a chance to run as a candidate. “But I think it’s important to keep up the pressure on dictators, and I still hope the internationally community will lead a political settlement,” he said.