Interview: 'Our Movement Cannot Be Dissolved'

Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy tells RFA why he is launching a new 'movement' to pursue goals his banned political party cannot.

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy explains his Cambodia National Rescue Movement concept in an RFA interview, Jan. 15, 2018.

Sam Rainsy, former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who has lived in exile since 2015, on Jan. 14 in Houston, Texas unveiled to supporters his plan to launch the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) as a way around the government’s ban on his opposition party. The CNRM concept was rejected out of hand by the government in Cambodia, where courts on Tuesday ordered Sam Rainsy to pay National Assembly President Heng Samrin $60,000 over a defamation charge. Vuthy Huot of RFA’s Khmer Service spoke to Sam Rainsy about the CNRM scheme.

RFA: What is your purpose in forming the so-called Cambodia National Rescue Movement?

Sam Rainsy: (We formed the CNRM) in order to carry out our mission, which is to rescue the nation, through another form and that is through a ‘movement.’ Each of us shall take part in the mission to rescue our nation by any form. Yet we are of the opinion that, in the meantime, the ‘movement’ formula is the best formula to attain our objective in 2018.

RFA: Does this mean that it will not suffice to use the existing organizational structure of the CNRP framework? You and CNRP officials have always mentioned that the dissolution of the CNRP only exists on paper and that the CNRP remains alive. Why don’t you use the existing mechanism of the CNRP and why do you find it necessary to form this new movement?

Sam Rainsy: In reality, we must acknowledge that CNRP supporters and activists in Cambodia are facing difficulties. They find it hard [to carry out their activities]. They are really concerned. They get lost and get confused about the future of the party. This is because of the fact that following the arrest and jailing of the party president Kem Sokha and following the dissolution of the CNRP, the theft of the CNRP parliamentarian and councilor seats, we find it hard to work. We have since repeatedly faced all kinds of persecution, intimidation, and threats. We must acknowledge that some of our supporters and activists have had to take refuge by leaving their village or commune/sangkat. Some have to take refuge in Thailand. So it is very hard to communicate with one another. This is without mentioning the 55 leaders of the CNRP, the 25 members of the CNRP Permanent Committee. They all find it hard to meet with one another. They even dare not to make any decision as their president is in jail while two deputy presidents are taking refuge overseas. Another deputy president, Pol Ham, is in Cambodia and he dares not to do anything or speak out. So if we are waiting for the party via its organizational structure to make any decision or to seek advice from Kem Sokha who is in jail … Kem Sokha dare not say anything. He is under all kinds of great pressure from [authorities] as we can see. Therefore, we have to overcome this very challenge that we cannot do anything. We must come up with a formula and the formula that we think is the best choice is the Cambodia National Rescue Movement.

RFA: I still don’t understand clearly. You mentioned that the CNRP is facing several issues already. To what extent can the newly formed movement help facilitate its work?

Sam Rainsy: This can help a great deal, because a movement is a new framework with which we can carry out our activities without anyone daring to take action against us. Our movement cannot be dissolved. Not even on paper! We don’t have to register our name or request authorization from any authorities so that government ministries can monitor us. Not at all. A movement is broad and is flexible by necessity. Hence, with such a movement, we can gather more support than through the party framework. For instance, civil society, members of non-governmental organizations, human rights organizations, land issues organizations, environmental organizations, journalists, and others cannot take part in any political party. But they can join with a broader movement with concrete goals. Our utmost purpose is to demand the release of Kem Sokha and all political prisoners. Also, we demand the return of civil rights and freedom – namely freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, or freedom to hold demonstrations. There should not be any crackdown against our citizens like what they are experiencing at the moment. More importantly, we demand free, fair and just elections. Such elections absolutely must have the participation of the CNRP. All of us can make such demand. It is not merely the task of a political party. It is the promotion of democracy in Cambodia and the protection of civil rights and freedom. Therefore, through this movement formula, we are opening up extensively. I believe, and I have noticed, that there are many people from several walks of life which in the past were not supporting the CNRP, but now they are supporting the CNRM.

RFA: You mentioned that there is interest in the CNRM from outsiders. You also mentioned that this movement will also open to civil society organizations and other networks to join. Up to now, can you elaborate a bit the name of these organizations that have shown signs of interest in joining this movement?

Sam Rainsy: I am afraid I cannot disclose it now and that I must not specify any organizations now. We will announce the formal formation of the CNRM in late January. Then we will see the presence of those who are joining our movement. They will show up by themselves or they will send us petitions with their names and signatures. It will be more conspicuous then, rather than disclosing (supporters) one by one. We will stage an event to celebrate the official formation of this movement.

RFA: Will this movement replace the CNRP in campaigning with the international community to put pressure directly against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and his officials? Or will the CNRP continue to carry out its campaign with the international community?

Sam Rainsy: If there are any leaders of the CNRP who can carry out activities in order to push for the release of Kem Sokha and demand proper elections, they can do it. We can do it concurrently and there would be nothing wrong with that. Yet I trust that within the new framework as a movement, we enjoy full rights and freedom. We will have leaders who are free and are not being incarcerated. We don’t need to wait for a command from anyone, not knowing who exactly is entitled to make decisions or from whom to receive advice.

RFA: Aren’t you afraid that the international community will find it confusing, not knowing whether to communicate with the CNRP or the CNRM? What would you do to ensure that the international community can recognize the CNRM?

Sam Rainsy: They will examine the movement’s legitimacy and representation of the citizens. The [movement] will be valued so long as it represents citizens at large in ways that can be noticed. We will see at least half of the CNRP lawmakers support this new movement. And we don’t need to have support from all the CNRP lawmakers, because I understand that some of them still fear carrying out activities with the CNRP or the CNRM. So these individuals can remain quiet. But for those who dare to come out, they must come out to represent themselves with the CNRM. This also includes CNRP councilors since they all enjoy legitimacy to represent citizens who voted for them. These people can come out to support the movement. They will give legitimacy to the CNRM.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.