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 by telephone from Massachusetts on Friday to discuss his life and activities after he was forced by the government in February to leave his CNRP post. He also spoke about local elections on June 4 that are seen as a bellwether for national elections in 2018.
RFA: How is your life after resigning from the position of CNRP president?
Sam Rainsy: I want to state that even though I forced myself to resign from being the CNRP president, my heart still yearns to rescue the nation 100 percent. My forced resignation was in order to protect the CNRP so that the other side could not use my personal issues as a pretext for dissolving the CNRP. I was the one who initiated the establishment of the CNRP. Considering me as though I am a parent who produced a child and devotes everything for the long life of that child. Hence, I don’t regret any position as I have to devote everything including my own life so long as our nation is alive, sustained and prosperous. The CNRP is the only means of rescuing our nation. So, again, I don’t have any regret so long as the CNRP retains its role as the single hope for Cambodian citizens, patriots and justice lovers. I would like to appeal to our fellow citizens and our young people, nephews and nieces, to go to vote for the CNRP so that we can rescue our nation together to make it become a prosperous nation like other civilized countries in the world.
RFA: During the election campaign, current CNRP President Kem Sokha called on the citizens to vote for the CNRP if they want to witness Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia. As for now, will you return to Cambodia to lead the party if the CNRP wins the election?
Sam Rainsy: I’ve always wanted to return to my home country now. Yet the Phnom Penh government has banned all airline companies from allowing me to board any plane. They said that they won’t allow any plane carrying Sam Rainsy to land in Cambodia. They won’t even allow any persons boarding the plane to be able to leave the plane as they will send the plane back to its point of origin. So no airline dares to accept me. If the government was courageous, they would not bar me from returning to my own country since it violates the laws and the constitution. No government is entitled to prevent its own citizens from returning to their own home country. Our fellow citizens can make a judgment on this issue. This government is very afraid and nervous of my presence. They are not brave enough and do not possess any sporting spirit for fair competition. They wouldn’t need to use such a puppet court to convict me so that I am not able to compete with them. This is so terrible. So leave it to our citizens to judge.
RFA: In the event that the CNRP wins the upcoming elections, and things change, and you can return to Cambodia, will you lead the government or the CNRP once again?
Sam Rainsy: The most important thing is the will of the people. When the majority of the people vote for the CNRP, it means that the citizens want the CNRP to lead the country. First, in 2017 to lead at the commune/sangkat level. With the same level of support in 2018, the CNRP can lead the new government. Hence, when we have a new government led by the CNRP, we can request the King to help intervene in settling my past cases and we will make a new law to protect citizens’ rights and freedom of expression, and those of our lawmakers as well so that they can protect the citizens who are subject to injustice and other victims. I myself along with my colleagues who dare to speak up for our citizens and those victims didn’t do anything wrong. They just convicted us, saying that we had committed offenses so that I cannot take part in the election or return to Cambodia. These are all just pretexts to prevent their challenger from being able to take part in the competition with them since they are very afraid of us and they are cowards. I request that all of our citizens go to vote on election day. When they see the CNRP receive massive support from the people, I believe that the situation will start to change. And I will try to return to Cambodia when our citizens vote for the CNRP at a maximum level.
RFA: Are you standing behind the CNRP acting as the party’s supreme advisor or being an unofficial leader of the CNRP?
Sam Rainsy: This depends on the CNRP and its leadership. Let them consider it. But for now, what we need to do is to ensure that our citizens go to vote and bring about victory for the CNRP. Other remaining issues can be settled easily once we gain a good number of our own commune/sangkat chiefs. When they see the landslide support for the CNRP, the other side will surely weaken in power. By then we will have an opportunity for dialogue. Now they are boastful, saying that they represent the majority. Just wait and see in the next couple of days which party enjoys majority support at the commune/sangkat level, and next year at the national level. When we have a majority voice, they won’t have the ability to disturb or harass us again. Then the CNRP will make its own internal decision whether it wants anyone to hold any position or not at all. As long as we are the ones who make our own decisions, as long as we have not been forced to follow their orders. When we follow their orders, it damages not only our interest, but also the interest of the nation as a whole.
RFA: Besides appealing to Cambodian citizens to vote for the CNRP so that you can return, have you sought any negotiations with the ruling party so that you can return?
Sam Rainsy: I believe that for now what is crucial is that we must give priority to the election process. We don’t need to negotiate at this time. Let the citizens decide and make their own judgments. The courts in Cambodia cannot be accepted. The ones who make the final decision are the citizens who are the owners of the territory. Please my fellow citizens go to vote. You are the representatives of Cambodia; you are the one who make the decision for the future of the country so that you don’t allow such corrupted and unjust courts decide the cases of the country’s patriots. So you as the citizens go to vote. You are the court of last resort and the people’s court that makes a decision via elections.
RFA: The NEC does not permit any airing of video clips by the CNRP containing your message. What is your reaction to such a ban?
Sam Rainsy: The current government nowadays is afraid of me. They are afraid of my shadow and my voice or anything related to my name. They are very afraid, just like children afraid of a giant. So let the citizens make their own judgment against those who do evil things against their own citizens, compatriots. They are afraid of those who love justice, democracy and patriotic movements. So you see … they don’t have any new ideas to present to the citizens. They know that the citizens don’t like them and don’t believe in them, so they don’t have anything to say except using threats of war, or threats to eliminate this or that. I feel such pity for our citizens who are the victims, including civil society members, members of national assembly and the senate from the CNRP who are now in jail. These people didn’t commit any crime. I insist our citizens to go to vote in this local election. Do not wait until next year for the national election by saying that this local election is not important. Please don’t think like this. We have to do it step by step. We have to go vote and the first step is to change local leadership so that later we can change the leader at the national level. We cannot directly change the national leader at once. We have to vote for change of commune/sangkat leaders, to show our force at the local level so that we can arrange for a better national election towards our final victory for the Cambodian citizens. So please do go to vote on June 4.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo.