“I resign as CNRP leader for the sake of the party. In all circumstances I cherish and uphold the CNRP’s ideals in my heart,” wrote the 67-year-old, who has been a major force in Cambodian politics for decades.
His resignation comes shortly after Hun Sen proposed amending political party laws to bar convicts from leadership positions — a clear threat to Rainsy, who has long been his top foe and the target of his political machinations.
The opposition leader has not visited Cambodia since 2015, when he fled to France to avoid a two-year jail term for defamation, which his supporters say was politically-motivated.
In December, a Phnom Penh court handed him a five-year prison sentence over a post on his Facebook page — a conviction that made any imminent return from exile even more unlikely.
Hun Sen also lodged a one-million-dollar defamation lawsuit against Rainsy last month and threatened to seize the CNRP’s headquarters if he wins the case.
The party’s spokesman Yim Sovann told AFP he had no other information about Rainsy’s decision to step down on Saturday, saying only that it was motivated by “personal reasons.”
Rainsy’s deputy, Kem Sokha, who has been serving as acting leader, is expected to guide the party as it prepares for local commune elections in June.