Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) 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 from France Wednesday to discuss a second amendment to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties, which effectively cuts ties between him and the opposition party ahead of national elections in 2018.
RFA: Recently you met with a number of senior officials of the CNRP in Hong Kong and some of your colleagues said it was the last meeting with you prior to implementation of the amended law, so as to avoid any possible legal challenges. How will you help the CNRP while at the same time avoid any legal problems for the party that could lead to a five-year suspension of operations or dissolution?
Sam Rainsy: I will continue my activities. Even if I’m a normal citizen, I still have the rights and freedom to express my ideas by not having to tie myself to any political party. As a Khmer citizen, I will continue to talk about the truth, to reveal the truth—either concerning the past, our history, the present truth, or any future progress that concerns me and Cambodian citizens as a whole. I will continue raising such concerns, along with my hopes as a patriot and lover of justice.
These two amendments are targeting me because they are afraid that if I continue to lead the CNRP … or work together with the CNRP, the party will remain strong and I would maintain my influence. Such amendments illustrate the fear and panic within the CPP, and of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen personally.
Our country is currently facing many great challenges. [The government] should have spent time creating proper laws so that justice can be granted to our citizens. They should have spent time considering how to better serve our society. However, they only know how to think about causing troubles for Sam Rainsy, because they know that I pose great danger to their dictatorship. Sam Rainsy dares to speak the truth and dares to protect the voices of the many victims in Cambodia, who are experiencing tremendous suffering under the present regime.
RFA: Before returning to Paris recently, we learnt that you went to meet with CNRP lawmakers and senior officials to discuss a number of issues. Can you tell us what the purpose of the meeting was? And what are your thoughts about the fact that your colleagues today wrote a joint letter requesting [King Norodom Sihamoni] to intervene by refusing to approve the amendment?
Sam Rainsy: [The meeting] concerned expressing mutual regards, contacts, beliefs and trust—regardless of how the situation has changed. Our minds and commitments remain unchanged. We will continue our work. Either separately or individually, we will continue upholding honesty and integrity along with our fellow citizens. We all are well aware that even if [the government] wants to terminate my influence or reduce my influence, or end my political life, they can only attempt to do so. No one can end my political career as long as I’m still alive, I continue to draw breath, or I still have the energy, health, freedom and means. I will use everything I have to rescue the nation through any means possible.
I believe that what my former colleagues have done by bringing this issue to the King is the right thing to do. We have followed the monarch for many years, even since during the reign of our former King Norodom Sihanouk, as they have always promoted unity, reconciliation, and peace within Khmer society to keep the Khmer nation thriving and prosperous. These are the intentions of our former King, the present King, and [the CNRP].
But the intentions from the other side are completely different. They want to wage war—or at least a war of minds. They want to bring accusations against one another and attack one another. This is because our present leader [Hun Sen] used to be a military commander for the Khmer Rouge regime. For those with a dictatorial mindset like the Khmer Rouge, this is how they want to live, because their power can only be preserved in an environment of war … As long as the former Khmer Rouge leaders remain in power, the Khmer people will never enjoy happiness; they will endure endless troubles and animosity against one another for the rest of time.
RFA: What is your reaction to the second amendment to the Law on Political Parties—in particular with regard to the controversial clause … which states that no political parties shall carry out any activities that “openly or tacitly agree or conspire with a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor to carry out any activities for political gain or in the interest of its party.” Any party found violating this clause will be subject to a five-year suspension or dissolution, and many have said it could be employed by the ruling party as a pretext to dissolve the CNRP or to terminate its operations for a period of five years if it does not openly reject involvement with you.
Sam Rainsy: What is most crucial is not that I am supporting the CNRP, but I am supporting the cause of rescuing the nation … Any party fearing that Sam Rainsy’s words may be used as a pretext to dissolve it may declare that those words are my sole responsibility.
RFA: So the CNRP may issue a letter once the law is enforced saying that, from then on, it rejects involvement in what is said by Sam Rainsy?
Sam Rainsy: It may declare in principle from the very beginning that the only individuals allowed to speak on behalf of the party are its leaders, permanent committee members, and spokesperson, etc. But as for other individuals, their comments are their own, and such individuals must be held solely responsible. As I’ve said earlier, I will speak about the issues facing our country. If I see any party doing well—say the CPP may one day awaken and rectify themselves through good deeds—I will commend it. And if I see them continue to do so, I will continue to commend them. In such a situation, if the CPP doesn’t issue a rejection of [my commendation], the CPP itself would also be subject to dissolution.
RFA: Regarding your wife, Tioulong Saumura, she is also a lawmaker from the CNRP and a senior official of the party. How will you manage your marriage despite your status as a criminal convict? Once this new law comes into effect, how will you manage your relationship so that it won’t cause trouble for the CNRP?
Sam Rainsy: Respect for human rights must distinguish between political affairs and private life. Only the Khmer Rouge sent its agents to spy and cause trouble against its own citizens [based on family relationships] … My wife is still my wife, and I remain her husband. We maintain our private lives just like other families. If this law is promulgated so that I will have to divorce my wife, I will never follow it … I will continue leading a political life as much as I possibly can. I will never let them use [my marriage] as an excuse to cause trouble against those who share a similar conscience as me and who are struggling to rescue the nation.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo.