Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy says his party is in negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party for his return to contest upcoming national elections, expressing optimism that a “political solution” would be reached.
“There are ongoing negotiations because this is not only a Cambodian issue—the world is watching,” the president of the opposition National Rescue Party (NRP) told RFA’s Khmer Service in Washington.
“[The world] wants our country to become a true democracy holding fair elections,” he said, without elaborating on when the talks with the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) began or the basis for his optimism.
Sam Rainsy said he “believe[s] there will be a political solution” that will allow him to return to Cambodia.
“This is not the first time for me. There have been … other times [I was persecuted],” he said, “But in the end there have always been political solutions.”
Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile in France since 2009, is barred by the Cambodian authorities from contesting the July 28 elections due to convictions that he says were politically motivated and for which he faces a total of 11 years in prison.
“Without my participation as an opposition leader who can defeat the ruling party, the election is meaningless and worthless,” he said.
“The government understands this issue and they have heard the demands of the international community.”
The United States is among countries that have criticized the Cambodian authorities for disallowing Sam Rainsy from running in the elections based on his criminal convictions, saying this calls into question the vote’s legitimacy.
Sam Rainsy said he is “100 percent confident” that he will be invited back to Cambodia to participate in the polls, adding that his presence is critical for a “free and fair election.”
“If there is a free and fair election it must include Sam Rainsy,” he said.
“But if it is a sham there is no need for me.”
Sam Rainsy told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that Washington should impose sanctions against Hun Sen if the elections are unfair, citing Burma’s recent change from a military regime to a growing democracy as a result of foreign pressure.
Call to postpone polls
Sam Rainsy said that in order for Cambodia to have a free and fair election, the polls must be postponed by at least three months, indicating that the delay would enable electoral reforms to be implemented.
The opposition leader earlier this week told a roundtable in Washington that polls should be postponed due to what he said are inconsistencies in voter registration and the barring of the opposition from observing the ballot process.
Hun Sen recently reaffirmed that the government would not delay the election or audit voting lists under any circumstances.
According to law, he said, national elections must take place every five years in the fourth week of July.
Sam Rainsy said recent attacks by Hun Sen against his party—including a call on the Cambodian media to air recordings of Sam Rainsy and deputy NRP chief Kem Sokha expressing their political differences in public—indicate that the CPP is concerned about the popularity of the opposition.
The two opposition leaders had aired their differences long before they decided to jointly form the NRP.
Hun Sen also suggested earlier this week that the NRP’s delay in submitting a list of candidates for the polls to the National Election Committee (NEC), which organizes and manages all elections in the country, was related to a split within the party.
“These claims are nonsense. What is important is that the party's leaders and its millions of supporters are united to rescue the country from disaster,” he said.
Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.