The Royal Academy of Cambodia on Friday held a roundtable meeting to discuss the dissolution of the former opposition CNRP and speculate on the return of Sam Rainsy.
Mr Rainsy left the Kingdom in 2015 after he was hit by a slew of court cases, including by his political rival Prime Minister Hun Sen, who accused him of defamation.
Last year, Mr Rainsy announced that he will return to Cambodia in 2019. Former opposition party supporters anticipate Mr Rainsy would return by Khmer New Year in April.
During the meeting entitled “The Last Political Situation of the Dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party”, analysts concluded it would be “impossible” for the former opposition leader to return.
RAC president Sok Touch said Mr Rainsy had numerous times in the past promised to return to the Kingdom, noting that Mr Rainsy made a promise to return in 2016.
“I am guessing he won’t return,” Mr Touch said. “If he wants to return, he should have returned last year during the election because people would have rallied for him.”
He noted many fugitives have returned to Cambodia via Thailand in order to avoid being arrested upon landing at Phnom Penh International Airport.
However, the route would be an “impossibility” for Mr Rainsy due to restrictions set by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan on Friday said the chances of Mr Rainsy returning to the Kingdom are slim due to him being a convict.
“Sam Rainsy does not dare to go to jail. If he goes to jail, his political life will end,” Mr Siphan said. “Why? Because how old is he now? How can he serve a term in office after spending many years in jail? It is what is preventing him from deciding to return.”
Mr Rainsy, 69, was found guilty by Phnom Penh Municipal Court last year and sentenced to one year and eight months in prison and ordered to pay $2,500 for incitement and defamation, following a complaint by Mr Hun Sen’s lawyer Ky Tech over an accusation that the government was behind the assassination of political analyst Kem Ley.
In 2011, Mr Rainsy was sentenced to two years in prison for the same charges following a complaint by former Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.
Diep Sophal, professor of history at the College of Social Sciences, said Mr Rainsy will only return to the Kingdom after a Royal Pardon.
“What benefit would his return bring? Who can allow him to return home?,” Mr Sophal said. “Only Samdech Prime Minister can make a request to the King.”
“If he returns as a convict then there is enough to jail Rainsy,” he added. “If he still has this status then I believe Sam Rainsy will not return.”
Mr Siphan said the government will continue to uphold the Supreme Court decision that saw the dissolution of the CNRP.
“The Royal Government respects and defends the Court’s verdict,” he said. “Any activities against the verdict is considered illegal. We must take action and crack down.”
Additionally, Mr Siphan slammed Mr Rainsy for comparing Cambodia to the current political crisis in Venezuela where there is a power struggle between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.
He also slammed Mr Rainsy for encouraging the international community to withdraw the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms preferential trade status with the European Union.
However, Mr Siphan said the government is prepared to address economic repercussion should the EU decide to withdraw the EBA.
“We will show the ability of the government under the leadership of Hun Sen,” he said. “We are going forward. We have overcome economic and diplomatic sanctions befor.”
“We will just pay the duty like every other member of the World Trade Organisation,” Mr Siphan added. “It doesn’t mean we will lose the market, it just means we will lose competitiveness.”