Following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adamant refusal to meet with him, exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy said the premier has only two options: step down now or be forced to step down in the near future.
Mr Rainsy has lived in exile since 2015 after being hit with slew of court cases, including by Mr Hun Sen, who accused him of defamation.
Mr Rainsy said on social media yesterday following an interview with Radio Free Asia that Mr Hun Sen’s first option was to “voluntarily step down now, after negotiating a safe exit with the Cambodia National Rescue Movement and the international community.”
If not, according to Mr Rainsy, the premier would be forced to step down in the near future “when the situation becomes untenable for him because of the growing anger of the population backed by a large portion of the armed forces on the one hand, and increasing international pressure and sanctions on the other hand.”
Mr Rainsy, who led the opposition CNRP before stepping down and being replaced by Kem Sokha, who has since been jailed on treason charges, cannot return to Cambodia due to multiple criminal convictions.
The Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP after Mr Sokha was jailed and the party was accused of conspiring with the US to topple the government through a colour revolution. The court also banned 118 senior CNRP members from politics for five years.
Mr Rainsy established the CNRM with the intention of helping the CNRP join the upcoming national election and uniting opposition figures. Mr Hun Sen has labelled it a terrorist organisation.
Speaking during a ceremony at Chhuok Var pagoda in Phnom Penh on Monday, Mr Hun Sen confirmed that he would attend the Asean-Australia Summit this month, but absolutely dismissed the idea of meeting Mr Rainsy after the former CNRP leader said he was open to meeting the premier for negotiations.
“I am going to Australia to attend the Asean-Australia Summit, but not to negotiate with former opposition leaders,” he said.
“It is not worth it for me to negotiate with you because you regard me as an isolated person that nobody wants to have relations with; so why do you want to negotiate with me; are you crazy?”
The Asean-Australia Special Summit will take place from March 17 to 18. There are about 30,000 Cambodian-born Australians living in Melbourne and Sydney. Many fled Cambodia during the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Mr Hun Sen cannot be bossed about, adding it would be out of character for him not to fume about such a suggestion from his arch-rival.
“Our Prime Minister is so mighty now that he is unlikely to buckle and be receptive to the idea of negotiation,” Mr Mong Hay said.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling CPP, said Mr Rainsy had lost his mind.
Mr Eysan said that Mr Hun Sen was destined to become Prime Minister and that more than half of the country had voted for him.
“Sam Rainsy lost in a democratic way,” he said, alluding to the 2013 national election.
The CPP won 68 National Assembly seats in the 2013 national election and the CNRP won the remaining 55. Voter turnout was reported to be 68.5 percent, making it the lowest turnout in history.