Exiled Cambodian Opposition Chief Vows to Return Before Polls

cambodia-sam-rainsy-wwc-may-2013-crop.jpg Sam Rainsy (R) addresses a roundtable in Washington, May 8, 2013.

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy has decided to return home from exile ahead of the July 28 general elections despite facing the risk of being jailed, saying he wants to "test" his country's democratic credentials and remind the international community of its obligations to ensure "free and fair" polls.

Sam Rainsy fled to France in 2009 after being convicted of various offenses the opposition leader say were politically motivated and for which he had been ordered to serve a total of 11 years in prison.  

In a post Sunday on his facebook page, Sam Rainsy said that he made up his mind to return after Prime Minister Hun Sen's administration excluded him from the electoral process and after his appeal for a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni was not considered.

"In this context and because Cambodia is at a turning point where it is imperative to consolidate the hopes of the Cambodian people and to reinforce the democratic process, I have decided, by my own volition and fully aware of the personal risks that I will run, to return before voting day," he said.

Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is widely expected to win the elections, enabling him to extend his 28 years in power. The CPP has won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.

Sam Rainsy said his presence as leader of the opposition in Cambodia and the fate that awaits him "will be a test of the reality of the 'free and fair elections'" promised by the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.

The accords laid out the process for ending decades of conflict in Cambodia but also for building a democratic society anchored in human rights and the rule of law.

"My return will serve as an opportunity for democracy to develop and will remind everyone concerned, Cambodians and friends of Cambodia alike, of their obligations," said Sam Rainsy, the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the biggest opposition party in the country.

Sam Rainsy has said several times before that he wanted to return but changed his mind later.

Two weeks ago, he told RFA’s Khmer Service that he would be unable to return before the elections despite previously suggesting that an agreement could be reached between the CNRP and Hun Sen’s government allowing him to take part in the polls.

Sam Rainsy said then that it was more important to the future of the country that he remains free, instead of going to jail and “falling into Hun Sen’s trap.”

“I must evaluate the situation—I want to protect my security and freedom to struggle for my country,” he had said.

Cautious government response

The Cambodian government gave a cautious response to Sam Rainsy's latest statement.

"We will just wait and see whether he will walk the walk or not," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told Agence France-Presse. "Will he be arrested or not upon his return to Cambodia? You should ask this question to the court." 

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA on Sunday that the exact date of Sam Rainsy's return would not be revealed yet.

He said he was confident that the people would rally to "protect" Sam Rainsy on his return.

"We are not worried because there are tens of thousands of people who are ready to protect Sam Rainsy," Yim Sovann said.

"Because they know that his case is [linked to] politics [and] that the ruling party falsely charged him without any evidence. The people know that he is innocent and not guilty, he is patriotic and his actions were aimed at safeguarding the country and people."

'Buying votes'

The opposition has accused Hun Sen's government of "buying votes" and using intimidation and fear to stifle its election campaign. Hun Sen has threatened that there might be civil war if his party loses the elections.

All opposition MPs have been kicked out of Cambodia's National Assembly before the polls and the government has organized nationwide protests against CNRP's number two Kem Sokha after accusing him of denying crimes committed by the notorious Khmer Rouge regime.

In his facebook post, Sam Rainsy said he had written last week to the foreign ministers of 18 countries, including the U.S. and China, which were signatories of the 1991 Agreements, on the lack of electoral reforms in Cambodia despite U.N. recommendations, calling for a "political solution" to enable him to play a "full role" in politics.

"As of today, despite the U.N. recommendations and other parallel efforts to help Cambodia organize credible elections, I remain excluded from the electoral process, forced into exile to avoid the heavy prison sentence which accompanied the removal of my civic and political rights," Sam Rainsy said.

Reported by Yanny Hin for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.