Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who went into exile after a warrant for his arrest was handed down last month, said on Friday that he would return to Cambodia before the next national election in July 2018.
On November 14, the day after news broke of the latest arrest warrant for Mr. Rainsy, he told a crowd of supporters in South Korea that he would return to Cambodia and face jail over a 2011 conviction for defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
However, after being summarily ousted from the National Assembly by CPP lawmakers—removing his parliamentary immunity from prosecution—Mr. Rainsy had a last-minute change of heart and decided not to return.
Speaking from Paris on Friday, Mr. Rainsy told Radio Free Asia that he would come back to Cambodia in the weeks or months before the national election.
“I plan to return to Cambodia four or five weeks to four or five months before the next general election in 2018,” he said, adding that this would give him the opportunity to “find a political solution” to his legal troubles.
Mr. Rainsy said the CNRP’s priority remained ensuring that coming elections were fair.
“Our most important target is to ensure that elections are fair, and this requires the participation of the two main political parties,” he said.
“The election will be meaningless if the Cambodia National Rescue Party does not participate, and the election will also be meaningless if the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party does not participate—the election result will not be recognized.”
Noting a steady rise in opposition representation in the National Assembly over the past two decades, Mr. Rainsy wrote on his Facebook page on Friday that he expected his party to win a majority of seats in parliament in the 2018 election.
“We can expect the CNRP to win at least 62 parliamentary seats so as to bring about democratic change that the Khmer people want to see for Cambodia,” Mr. Rainsy wrote.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that there would be no political solution allowing Mr. Rainsy a free return to Cambodia.
“The authorities will arrest him if he returns to Cambodia because they must implement the arrest warrant,” Mr. Eysan said, adding that Mr. Rainsy’s prediction of electoral victory was delusional.
“I think that this is only the imagination of His Excellency Sam Rainsy, but obviously his dream will not come true,” Mr. Eysan said.
“I wish to state that the Cambodian People’s Party will win the next election because the leader of this party has educated all officials to work to serve the public and provide public services for the people.”