Former Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy, who has been forced to live in exile since 2015 in the face of questionable defamation charges, spoke with reporter Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service in Washington Tuesday to discuss the CNRP's performance in local elections on June 4 and the party's prospects for national elections in 2018.
RFA: You resigned from your position as CNRP President on February 11. At that time you said your resignation was in order to rescue the CNRP from any attempts to dissolve the party through the use of the amended law on political parties by Hun Sen’s government. Now the election is over, how effective is your resignation and how did it affect the commune council election results?
Sam Rainsy: My resignation was only made on paper. But my heart and my mind still rest with rescuing the nation 100 percent. I want to commend and thank our compatriots, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, who went to vote en masse for change. In 2017, we have changed most [officials] at the commune/sangkat levels. What is most important is that in 2018, our compatriots will go to vote for change at the national level through electing new lawmakers. Then we will have a new government and a new prime minister to lead new politics so as to serve the genuine interests of the nation and the people and bring about full happiness for Cambodian citizens.
RFA: Had you not resigned, how would the political situation have developed?
Sam Rainsy: It is clear that they created a new law aiming at me, Sam Rainsy, as their courts had unfairly prosecuted me. With such a pretext, they created a new law stipulating that any party whose leaders are convicted by the court shall be subject to dissolution. Had I not resigned, the CNRP would have been dissolved. In the name of one of the founders of the CNRP, like being a parent, we dare to withdraw ourselves so that our children can stay alive and grow up.
RFA: Now your party has not been dissolved and it has just won nearly 500 commune/sangkat chief posts although it has not won a majority. Are you satisfied with this result? Do you think that, had you taken other strategies, it would have increased the votes for your party? Or is this what your party can do to the best of its ability?
Sam Rainsy: I believe that this election was not free or fair. Had it been held in a free and fair environment, the CNRP would have received more votes than what it has now. How can you call it free, if there were always threats of war, arrests and jailing of the innocents? How can it be free with such an environment of fear? How can it be fair if the ruling party employed state means, materials, budget and personnel to serve its own interests? How can it be fair and equitable when I, who stands behind the CNRP and used to be its president, could not participate in this election or during the election campaign? I trust that had I had my freedom and the possibility to participate during the election campaign, the votes that CNRP would have received would be much higher than this. As for the other side, its leader could conduct his election campaign at will. But as for me, had I not resigned, and had I not been accused unfairly, I would have been present with Kem Sokha to conduct the election campaign together across the nation. And the CNRP would have won more than this time. Hence, I regret that this election was not free or fair. I will make all-out efforts to ensure that the upcoming election is freer and fairer. The CNRP will then achieve a victory greater than in 2017.
RFA: Having said that the election was not free and fair and that the party received greater pressure and oppression than in previous polls, why did your party accept the election results?
Sam Rainsy: We understand that the level of support for the CNRP was higher than ever before. Even though it was not free or fair, our votes keep increasing. Our commune/sangkat chief seats increased in 2017 to nearly 500 seats. I believe that in 2018, we will receive at least eight additional assembly seats than what we have now. Actually it should be more than this, but at least this is the minimum votes that we should gain when the citizens vote for the CNRP. Right now we have 55 seats in the national assembly. If we receive just eight additional seats then the CNRP will have 63 seats in the national assembly which is enough, equivalent to the absolute majority, for the party to form a new government and bring about the change the citizens have wished for. So… for next year, I call on our citizens to come out to vote en masse so that the CNRP increases its seats by an additional eight seats so that we have enough lawmakers at the national assembly to form a new government.
RFA: The possibility that Prime Minister Hun Sen plans to dissolve the CNRP has not yet disappeared, even though you chose to resign earlier this year, especially at a time when support for the CNRP is increasing. What else do you have as a strategy for further rescuing the party? What if there is any case lodged against Kem Sokha, including the Anti-Corruption Unit plans to investigate him over his alleged human trafficking case? Will Kem Sokha dare to resign as president to rescue the party? Do you have other strategies should there be such attempts?
Sam Rainsy: Such attempts show that the other side is in a panic. They know that they are losing. Because the level of citizens’ support for the CNRP is increasing over time. In contrast, the support for the CPP is decreasing. In the past, the gap between the CPP and the CNRP was FAIRLY huge. But from one election to the next, the gap is shrinking. And in 2017, the line of support for both parties almost stayed at the same level. By 2018, the lines will be crossed, meaning that the CPP is dropping and the CNRP is rising. Then the support for the CNRP will be higher than that for the CPP. So they know that they are losing and that with a fair and proper election that allows our citizens to express their will genuinely, the CNRP will win a landslide. That is why they tried to find measures and devise plans that are of bad intention and not in compliance with democratic principles in order to cause trouble for the CNRP. This is not the first time that they used such tricks to cause trouble for the CNRP. Prior to the creation of the CNRP, the Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party were also being subject to harassment and trouble. But we still sustained and our votes kept increasing from one election mandate to the next. Their tricks could not outdo us. We as good people also have our strategies to protect ourselves from ill-intended persons. Just take a look at what we have done to sustain the life of the party. Not only for the sustainability of the party but also for the party to grow and increase votes from one year to the next. I trust that in the future as per in our past we are equipped with ideas and strategies to confront them to ensure that our party is strong and soon next year we can bring about victory. It is true that without Sam Rainsy, the party can still grow and that without Kem Sokha, the party can also grow. As a matter of fact, there is not just a single Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha. There are millions of Sam Rainsys and Kem Sokhas in Cambodia. Those who love the nation, justice and those who yearn for positive change. These people are called Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha. So no having me or Kem Sokha will not cause any problems so long as our conscience stays alive within the hearts of Cambodian people across the nation.
RFA: You had committed to return to Cambodia in time for the national election in 2018 and to stand as prime minister candidate for the CNRP to compete with the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen. But how will you return to Cambodia? By what means?
Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen has to suspend and drop the order that his government had given to airline companies worldwide not to board me on any of their planes to Cambodia. So no airline companies dare to board me due to Hun Sen’s threat that any airlines that fly me to Cambodia, will face a situation in which all passengers on board will not be allowed to leave the plane and the plane has to return to its place of origin. So I cannot return to Cambodia because now I’m living in France. I have to board a plane that flies across several countries and the last country will be either Thailand or Korea. Yet all airliners have received the same order. If they want to have a free and fair election, as a contender and as a prime minister candidate to compete with Hun Sen, I request that Hun Sen be brave enough not to obstruct me from being able to compete with him. This does not mean through Hun Sen’s leniency. I ask Hun Sen to abide by the law and the constitution. No government in the world obstructs one of its citizens from being able to return to their own homeland. This is such a cruel and illegal act. Hun Sen should know that he should not act like this since it is shameful. Only his government dares to obstruct one of its citizens from being able to return to Cambodia.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo.