Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Friday called on the Cambodian diaspora in Asia to “inspire” those back home to “stand up and make a change” to the country’s government, urging them not to allow Prime Minister Hun Sen to buy their loyalty.
Speaking with RFA’s Khmer Service in Gwangju, South Korea amid a conference organized by local youth members of his party, the acting president of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said the tens of thousands of Cambodians living and working in South Korea are being “cheated” by Hun Sen in a bid to gain their support for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“Hun Sen often gives them little gifts to buy their support for his authoritarian and corrupt regime, and his family, but Cambodians living in Korea don’t need his gift,” Sam Rainsy said, adding that “there is no gift-giving and cheating here, like in Cambodia.”
“People have work to do—a prosperous country is not one where [the leadership] has lots of gifts to give out. A wealthy nation is one that has enough jobs—decent jobs that provide enough income to allow people to live with dignity.”
Friday’s conference, which was organized by Cambodian youths in Korea and the Korea-based Asia Human Rights Peace Forum, was attended by CNRP officials and democracy activists from Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia.
On Saturday, Sam Rainsy plans to lead a candlelight demonstration in Gwangju to “liberate Cambodia’s democracy from dictator Hun Sen,” which was organized by local CNRP youth leadership.
The CNRP was banned by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government, paving the way for the CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election. The party has regrouped and remains active outside the country.
Speaking to RFA on Friday, Sam Rainsy said that Cambodians living in South Korea appreciate the freedoms they enjoy there and “want Cambodia to have democracy and prosperity like South Korea.”
“That is why … Cambodian people living in South Korea strongly support the CNRP—they want to have positive change, a change the Cambodian people and the CNRP want,” he said.
Sam Rainsy said the CNRP also draws substantial support from Korean nongovernmental organizations that campaign for democratic freedoms, and that the party is working with them to help bring that change to Cambodia.
“Koreans love democracy and they want all Cambodians to stand up and protest for a change in Cambodia,” he said.
“Our strategy is to join the hands of Cambodians around the world—especially those living in Asia … so I am touring countries with Cambodian residents to connect with them and help them inspire those living inside Cambodia to stand up and make a change in Cambodia in 2019.”
Participants in Friday’s conference told RFA they were committed to bringing democracy back to Cambodia through nonviolent means.
Chhun Bun Kheang, a former CNRP commune councilor who flew to South Korea from the U.S., said he was frustrated that Hun Sen’s regime had “robbed me of my elected positon,” after he was voted into power by Cambodia’s villagers.
“More than 5,000 commune council positions were stolen [after the CNRP was dissolved],” he said.
“This is very unjust … We don’t want this kind of thing to happen again, so we are fighting against it. The dictator [Hun Sen] can’t live forever, and we will be victorious as long as we continue to fight for democracy and human rights.”
A CNRP member living in Austria named Kes Vathana told RFA he traveled to Friday’s conference to contribute ideas on restoring democracy to Cambodia.
“We need unity in order ensure democracy survives, and a nonviolent movement to create positive changes,” he said.
Finland-based political analyst Kim Sok called Friday’s conference an exercise of freedom of speech and human rights, and praised several Cambodian laborers who had joined the gathering, despite earlier threats from Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan that Hun Sen could “take legal action against demonstrators overseas.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.