Updated at 10:30 a.m. EST on 2012-08-09
Cambodia’s exiled politician Sam Rainsy is optimistic that he will be allowed to return home from exile under a political compromise and run in next year’s election as head of a new opposition alliance.
The government has said that he may not return without serving a two-year jail sentence for uprooting markers at the Cambodia-Vietnam border in 2009.
But Sam Rainsy, who is currently involved in efforts to merge Cambodia’s two key opposition parties to forge a united alliance against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), said he believes there will be a “political solution” for his return.
“The situation would not remain the same. It is not the first time that I was expelled from the National Assembly [parliament] and convicted. This time will also be the same as the past. There will be a political solution,” he said in an interview with RFA's Khmer service in Washington.
He did not elaborate on how a resolution would be reached but said that in 2006, he was able to return from exile after foreign governments expressed concern that the government framed charges against him to silence the opposition.
National Salvation Party
Sam Rainsy is in the process of merging his Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) with another key opposition party, the Human Rights Party (HRP), to put up a united challenge against Hun Sen’s CPP in the 2013 vote.
He is in the U.S. as part of a global tour with HRP President Kem Sokha to raise awareness of their new party–the National Salvation Party–and put what he called foreign pressure on the Cambodian government to allow him to return.
They are scheduled for talks with officials of the U.S. State Department and the United Nations.
Sam Rainsy will be the new party’s candidate for Prime Minister in the July 2013 vote, he and Kem Sokha told RFA, calling for electoral reforms to make the elections fair and credible.
“In order to have a free and fair election, the National Election Committee must be reformed and restructured,” Sam Rainsy said.
The two parties had previously criticized the National Election Commission for being biased toward the CPP, which has ruled the country for three decades and easily won the country’s past three commune-level elections amid political violence and other problems.
“We would like Cambodia to become a fully democratic country. And we would like the world community and the U.S. to rescue Cambodia, which is getting too close to becoming a waterfall,” Kem Sokha said.
Sam Rainsy, first elected to the National Assembly two decades ago, first went into exile in 2005 after facing defamation charges for criticizing government corruption.
He returned the next year after receiving a royal pardon, but went into exile again in 2009 after leading the border protest and was convicted in absentia on charges of incitement and damaging property.
He called his conviction groundless and unacceptable.
The plan for the SRP and HRP parties’ merger was announced at a meeting in Manila in July, after the wheels for the plan were set in motion nearly two years ago.
They had attempted to merge ahead of local-level elections for commune council chiefs in May, but were unable to decide on common goals at the time.
Kem Sokha said that the Cambodia Democratic Movement for National Rescue, the transitional body ahead of the merger, has established working groups to unite the two groups and is in the process of creating a joint national platform and common party policies.
“We all already know that we want to rescue the country, so [that is why] we have decided to name the new party the ‘National Salvation Party.’ Our principles are to merge the positive points from the two parties into a new single party,” Kem Sokha said.
Sam Rainsy said the party’s unity would be crucial to its success.
“The current situation has required all democrats to be united to rescue the country. This is what the country needs. If we fail to answer the country’s need, that would be a big mistake,” Sam Rainsy said.
“We have no choice but to be united into one force.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen, who has been prime minister since 1998, dismissed any notions that the new party could be a threat to his CPP, saying the alliance was likely to crumble.
“They announced they are committed to the alliance. They said Hun Sen is afraid of the alliance, and it is not true,” he said, predicting the political in-fighting between the two parties would be like “dogs fighting for food.”
Reported and translated by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
Correction: Amended new party's name from "Party for National Rescue" to "National Salvation Party."