Kem Sokha, the deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, declined to answer reporters questions last week about whether a deal had been struck with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party that paved the way for him to be pardoned.
Sokha had been convicted of failing to appear in court to answer questions in a separate case, but was issued a royal pardon last week in a surprise intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
After a visit to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh in Thursday, Sokha chose not to address speculation that he made concessions to Hun Sen in exchange for the pardon, saying only that “the [political] environment is good”.
Ou Chanrith, a CNRP lawmaker who also visited the prison, repeated claims that no conditions had been placed on Sokha’s freedom. “We want to do whatever we can to maintain political stability. There was no conditions on talks aimed at releasing party members,” he said.
He added that the party would continue to work towards securing the release of opposition members and activists detained in recent months.
The assumption that some concessions were made to secure Sokha’s release is not without precedent. In 2014, a violent opposition demonstration in the wake of the disputed 2013 election led to the jailing of several opposition members and lawmakers.
Later that year, a deal was struck for their release, which included electoral reforms and paved the way for greater opposition participation in the democratic process, including the appointment of Sokha as vice president of the National Assembly.
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, said it was unlikely that there were no conditions involved in the recent agreement to resume relations between the parties.
Lao Mong Hay, a political analyst and former advisor to Sokha, said it was also likely that pressure from the European Union and other foreign powers had prompted the decision to normalize relations with the opposition.