PHNOM PENH —
The vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) will return to the country on Tuesday, along with two lawmakers who were brutally beaten outside the National Assembly last month.
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha is returning following meetings in Manila last week with party president Sam Rainsy, who remains abroad to avoid an arrest warrant he says is politically motivated.
Rescue Party officials say they met to discuss strategy in the face of ongoing political strife with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
In a video posted to Facebook, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha appealed to the party’s supporters to remain calm and seek peaceful means to change the country.
“Despite a number of recent events, including changes of the political situation, our position and goals remain the same,” said Sam Rainsy. “Our motivation and our commitment are the same. We want to have change through a peaceful election."
In the same video, Kem Sokha told supporters the Rescue Party is working on short, medium and long-term goals to win local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.
“To reform our country to truly follow the path of [multi-party democracy] and to fulfill the desire of our citizens to have better living conditions," he said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed the message as a bid for power that is "nothing new." He added the ruling party was “keeping the door open” for dialogue with the opposition.
"The culture of dialogue covers only the political aspect and it cannot super power the court and the law. As we know, Sam Rainsy’s case is truly concerning legal affairs. It concerns the personal lawsuits between [Foreign Minister] Hor Namhong and Sam Rainsy – an issue between individuals," he said.
The two parties agreed earlier this year to establish what they called a "culture of dialogue" to reduce tensions and keep open lines of communication; but, the agreement appears in doubt after recent actions against the opposition.
The arrest warrant followed the removal of Kem Sokha from a senior post at the National Assembly, along with the beating of two opposition lawmakers by masked men outside the legislature following pro-CPP rallies in October.
The actions have been criticized by the international community, including U.S. officials, who say they fear the upcoming elections will not be free and fair.
The arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy stems from a criminal defamation suit brought by Hor Namhong in 2008, but opposition officials say it is being brought forward as part of an ongoing political campaign against them.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which critics accuse of being politically biased toward the ruling CPP, issued the warrant this month in connection with a 2008 lawsuit brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. It alleges that Sam Rainsy defamed him in a speech by accusing him of collusion with the Khmer Rouge.
Defamation is a criminal charge in Cambodia, carrying punishments of jail time and fines.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.