Opposition leader Sam Rainsy will make his long-awaited return to Cambodia today in the company of party vice president Kem Sokha and other Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials, party spokesmen said Thursday.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Mr. Sokha, who has been the opposition’s acting president since he and Mr. Rainsy merged their parties last year to contest this month’s national election, left for Bangkok on Thursday morning so the two could fly back together.
The CNRP expects at least 20,000 supporters to converge on Phnom Penh International Airport this morning to greet Mr. Rainsy, who is returning after nearly four years abroad avoiding convictions widely considered politically motivated and following a recent Royal Pardon arranged by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“He [Mr. Sokha] will be back on the same flight as Mr. Rainsy,” Mr. Sovann said.
He said the party’s decision to have the president and vice president land together was “normal” and not intended to allay any residual doubts that the two erstwhile—and sometimes bitter—opposition rivals remained fully committed to their new political marriage.
“We have shown that already, I think we don’t need to show more,” Mr. Sovann said.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said the two party leaders also wanted to talk shop away from any prying microphones.
“It’s secure there. Here, someone would try to tape the conversation,” he said.
Once back in Cambodia, Mr. Rainsy will spend only a day in Phnom Penh before heading out on a whirlwind tour of the provinces Saturday morning, hitting 15 provinces in seven days.
In order, the provinces are: Kompong Speu, Takeo, Kep, Kampot, Preah Sihanouk, Kompong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Kompong Thom, Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Kompong Cham and Kandal.
Mr. Rainsy will return to Phnom Penh on July 26, two days before the election.
By law, all parties must stop campaigning a day before the poll.
Mr. Sovann said the itinerary reflected the opposition’s strategy to focus its modest resources on those provinces with at least three National Assembly seats.
Lawmakers from the two merged opposition parties already hold seats in all but three of them—Preah Sihanouk, Pursat and Svay Rieng.
The tour effectively leaves out the entire northeast of the country, where they hold none.
In Kompong Speu, Mr. Rainsy’s first stop, CNRP National Assembly candidate Nuth Rumduol said he expected a crowd of 10,000 to welcome Mr. Rainsy to the provincial capital.
“People in Kompong Speu are waiting for him…. They are so excited,” he said. “I hope people will vote for the CNRP because he is here.”