Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ruled out canceling general elections slated for July, despite questions about the legitimacy of the vote in the wake of his government’s dissolution of the country’s only significant opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The strongman ruler of 33 years also refuses to hold talks with the CNRP, most of whose leadership is in exile or in jail. Amid the standoff, former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile since November 2015, has repeatedly called for dialogue in the name of national reconciliation. Reporter Vuthy Huot of RFA’s Khmer Service spoke to Sam Rainsy in a Skype interview on Monday.
RFA: You recently posted on your Facebook page, asking Hun Sen to set aside his personal feelings and put the national interest at the core. What are the reasons behind this?
Sam Rainsy: I noticed that some individuals placed their own personal feelings and angers at the forefront, without thinking about the national interest. This requires us to set aside our personal feelings. We must think about common interests, public interest and national interest, if we are real leaders. We should not employ personal issues, which cause criticism and anger, as a barrier to prevent any possible sound resolution of our national problems.
RFA: According to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s remarks upon returning from attending the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit recently held in Sydney, he has shut the door on any talks, since the opposition party was campaigning behind the burning of his effigy at protests that angered him. This suggests that he at one time wanted talks. What do you make of this?
Sam Rainsy: If we want to have a talk, if we have mutual honesty, in order to serve the national interest, we must learn to forget for a while any personal issues or individual issues. And we should not turn to label others by accusing them or having them arrested... or use them as political hostages. A bad worker should not always blame his tools! A culture of dialogue has been practiced around the globe. In all civilized countries, and democratic countries, they practice a genuine culture of dialogue. But in Cambodia, everything is fake, including democracy, rule of law, and development. And now the culture of dialogue was also a fake since no honesty and commitment existed and there was only threats and intimidation. A dialogue must be held with equality and no party should be subject to threats to jail them if they don’t follow their orders. They have fabricated cases using their own rubber-stamp courts to pile pressure on us. This is not a culture of dialogue. Yet, I believe that sooner or later, Cambodians from all walks of life will clearly understand that only a genuine culture of dialogue is the basis for genuine democracy and the basis of sustainable peace. We must change our mindset. The present mindset stemmed from the old culture which is a culture of violence, a culture of posing threats, a culture of impunity. Such a cruel culture is the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime. One day if we cleanse ourselves so that we no longer have remaining traces from the Khmer Rouge regime, then we will turn to adopt the genuine culture of dialogue.
RFA: Earlier you mentioned that the other side appears not to have any honesty for such culture of dialogue. But Hun Sen used to say that it was you who shakes his hand while stepping on his foot. How do you employ experience learning from past unsuccessful efforts at fostering a culture of dialogue and implement it, should there be any possible talks, in order to ensure its success and that it is held with integrity?
Sam Rainsy: I am not using Hun Sen’s language. All Hun Sen’s words are about personal issues, accusing others of this and that, of shaking hands while stepping on feet. If we are to hold a dialogue in the name of a leader, we must hold a dialogue for the national interest – not on personal anger, feelings, and envy, or any tricks to eliminate others. I don’t have anything to say. If he does not want to speak with Sam Rainsy, he can still speak with Kem Sokha, with Eang Chhay Eang, with Mu Sochua, with civil society or journalists, including you. But, he used a pretext saying that I was the one who annoyed him. This is not about an individual named Sam Rainsy or Hun Sen. Individual issues are not crucial. We must uphold national interests at first, and talk about the country’s problems. If he is dissatisfied with Sam Rainsy, he still can practice such genuine culture of dialogue with many other Khmer nationals who love the nation and yearn for democracy and prosperity. Please exercise this culture of dialogue with integrity and stop talking about personal issues.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo.