The Feb 3 National Assembly vote that stripped opposition leader Sam Rainsy of his immunity and prompted him to flee Cambodia may have drawn widespread criticism, but it also heralded new opportunities within his party, opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said Tuesday.
With Sam Rainsy absent, other party members have been given the chance to build their political reputations in a party traditionally dominated by its leader, he said.
“Everyone has [previously] seen the Sam Rainsy Party as a one-man show,” Yim Sovann said. “Even if Sam Rainsy is out of the country, we can still do our job. We are doing very well.”
Although Sam Rainsy issues instructions from abroad, acting party president Kong Korm, Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang and Yim Sovann are managing the party on the ground, Yim Sovann said.
This involves managing party leaders in the provinces and building grass roots support, he said.
Without giving exact dates, opposition officials have repeatedly said that Sam Rainsy will return soon.
No arrest warrant has been issued for Sam Rainsy, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng said Tuesday.
“He can buy an air ticket to return whenever he wishes,” Om Yentieng said. “He is afraid of his own shadow.”
Yim Sovann said he was unconvinced. “[The ruling parties] can do anything they want,” he said.
Though Sam Rainsy has repeatedly compared Cambodia to Burma, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest by the government she opposes, while Sam Rainsy chose to leave the country, Om Yentieng said.
“In Cambodia there is no Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.
Sam Rainsy’s exit from the country may not have been heroic, but it was ultimately sensible, Tek Tol, an opposition party supporter and laborer in Phnom Penh, said on Tuesday.
“If he stayed here they would have made trouble for him,” he said.
San Rithy Duong Hak, cabinet chief for the opposition party, said he was hopeful that Sam Rainsy will return this year.
Lobbying for support in the West, as Sam Rainsy has been doing, is not particularly useful, one foreign diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Western countries generally have limited interest in Cambodia and little influence over the government, the diplomat said.
“He should just come back to face the charges, which I believe he will do if he wants a political future in Cambodia,” the diplomat said.