The international community must be prepared to offer Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen guarantees for a “dignified exit”, the Southeast Asian country’s exiled former opposition leader told Euronews.
Sam Rainsy, who has been living in France since 2015 amid a slew of charges and convictions widely seen as politically motivated, said the leader of more than three decades is “understandably very afraid, very concerned for his security, for his safety when he steps down.”
Cambodians are due to head to the polls in July 2018 for a national election.
“Nobody is eternal. He [Hun Sen] must realise that he has to prepare his retirement and I think we need to give him some guarantees,” Rainsy said.
“If it is not enough that those guarantees are provided by Cambodians… then there must be some international guarantees to allow him to leave the country, to go somewhere safely, to have a kind of dignified exit whereby he cannot only preserve his safety, but preserve his freedom and also preserve a portion of his wealth.”
The call by Rainsy came just weeks after the European Union issued one of its strongest statements to date over the unfolding political crisis in Cambodia, warning that the deterioration of human rights there could affect aid and trade relations.
Earlier this year, Rainsy officially resigned as president of the country’s main opposition party ahead of an amendment to the law barring convicted criminals from leading a political party.
His replacement and party co-founder was arrested in September on charges of treason, which the government just weeks ago said it would also pursue against Rainsy in both Cambodian and French courts.
More than half of the MPs from Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have now fled the country ahead of its expected dissolution by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The International Federation for Human Rights has described the government’s treatment of Rainsy and the CNRP as part of an “all-out offensive to wipe out any form of opposition ahead of next year’s general election.”
Speaking from his central Paris apartment days before the ruling, Rainsy said that if his party was dissolved, the opposition movement would adapt and take on a new form.
“What is important is the will of the people. The people are not going to give up what they demand… This demand could take different forms, different shapes and different organisations but the battle will continue anyway,” he said.
He added that he had never seen Hun Sen, who has governed Cambodia since 1985, as paranoid as he is now. A sign, he claimed, that he knows “his days are numbered.”
Rainsy cited declining support from the military in the run-up to the 2018 vote as a key reason for the prime minister being “more afraid than ever”.
“Everybody knows that maybe from colonel up they could support Hun Sen, but from colonel down, the rank and file soldiers, those people support the opposition,” he claimed.
“I think he lives in a world very alone, in a world that is becoming more and more disconnected from the real world. It is usually in this way that dictators fall down.”
Rainsy added that he was hopeful that there were “more reasonable” and “more realistic” people around Hun Sen who could one day convince him to relinquish power.
“What is important is the will of the people. The people are not going to give up what they demand. They demand a democratic change.”
Sok Eysan, spokesman of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, dismissed Rainsy’s claims that support for the prime minister is declining.
“He just said that to upgrade himself. He is using tactics of incitement,” he told Euronews.
“The military support the government by issuing petitions and calling Sam Rainsy a national traitor. This person knows this and he only dares to speak from abroad,” he added.
Eysan said the government is confident that Hun Sen will be legitimately re-elected in next year’s vote, and insisted that the upcoming case to dissolve the CNRP was in line with the country’s laws, not a political agenda.
“Evidence is enough and the court will look into it by practicing the law. Sam Rainsy has committed crimes, but he does not accept it. I don’t understand that.”
Video: Ana González