Interview: 'We Have to Achieve Success For the Cambodian People Who Want to See Changes'

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Cambodia's opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy (R) speaks to the press as deputy president Kem Sokha (L) looks on in Tokyo, Nov. 10, 2015.
Cambodia's opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy (R) speaks to the press as deputy president Kem Sokha (L) looks on in Tokyo, Nov. 10, 2015.

In a telephone interview with reporter Chun Chanboth of RFA’s Khmer Service, Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), discusses returning to Cambodia to run in the country’s upcoming general elections in 2018. He has delayed his return to Cambodia while visiting several nations in Asia and Europe, following his removal from parliament on Nov. 16 by ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lawmakers after a warrant was issued for his arrest in a seven-year-old defamation case.

RFA: You said yesterday in Paris that you are committed to returning to Cambodia. But how will you be able to go back to Cambodia?

SAM RAINSY: What’s important is that we have to achieve success for the Cambodian people who want to see changes – changes in the political environment and changes in Cambodia’s leadership. Therefore, our most important goal is to ensure there are elections [in Cambodia] and to hold proper elections. Other tasks and obligations are that we have to make an effort to pave our way, so that we can achieve our goal.

Regarding the elections [in 2018], there must be participation from the main parties, especially the CNRP which represents the nation and the people – at least half of the country. If there is no CNRP participating in the elections, the elections will be meaningless. And if there is no president of the CNRP participating in the elections, the elections will be meaningless. It wouldn’t have any significance. So, I believe that I will be present to campaign in the upcoming elections.         

RFA: Do you mean the next general elections in 2018 or that you will try to return to Cambodia before the communal elections scheduled for 2017?

SAM RAINSY: Any elections, as long as they are called “general.” Now, we can see that there are only two main parties competing against each other, so their two leaders must lead their respective parties [in the elections] individually; then, the elections will be “meaningful elections.” Such elections would be valuable and recognized by the international communities. Otherwise, such elections would not be recognized by the international community, so that no one would acknowledge them.  

RFA: Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered a warrant to be issued to prevent you from entering the country. Are you prepared to appoint someone else to stand in for you in your leadership role and continue leading the CNRP?

SAM RAINSY: The point that you mentioned is not a matter of that court, it is a matter of political motivation. The court was used [as a tool] to serve a political purpose. The issue is political, so it must be resolved through political means.

This is not the first time that the [CPP] has wanted to destroy me during the past 20 years. It has expelled me from the National Assembly four times. It has never wanted me to participate in any elections. It seems to be too scared of my presence [in the elections]. But in the end, as in the past elections, I have always participated in the elections because there are always solutions in politics. There will be national level political solutions and international level political solutions.

In 2013, for instance, the [CPP] didn’t actually want me to participate in the elections, but I was able to go to Cambodia for only nine days prior to Election Day, and we saw that the CNRP won significant support [in the general elections].

As long as I’m able to enter the country four to five weeks, or four to five months, before Election Day, it would be good. And, as in the 2013 elections, we could work out a political solution.

RFA: Are you not afraid of the Khmer saying that being far away physically, the heart will too be far away, when you are far away from your supporters?

SAM RAINSY: This is the information age, so being geographically far away is not a big deal. The important thing is that being close to each other … through modern communication mediums that we all use. I closely observe everything, including the people in Cambodia. The Cambodians living [in Cambodia] and overseas can follow and be informed of the events happening in Cambodia in a very timely manner. I contact my CNRP colleagues every day, and sometimes two or three times in a single day. I also communicate with the Cambodian people directly in their local areas via Facebook, telephones and the Internet. We raise questions and answer each other and take pictures and record our voices, so nowadays communicating is no longer a problem.

RFA: It seems as though CNRP politicians are willing to stay out of jail so that they can have the freedom to challenge the government which is persecuting them and competing against their party. This is different from the political strategies practiced and used by politicians in other countries.

SAM RAINSY: We have seen that in Cambodia’s history the ones who struggled always became victims. Even during the Khmer Rouge era, the ones who wanted to stand up and rebel against the Khmer Rouge had to force themselves to flee to Vietnam for a period of time to ask for support from the Vietnamese. So, struggles take many forms.

RFA: What message do you want to send to the Cambodian people and to your supporters?

SAM RAINSY: On the occasion of the coming new year in 2016, I would like to wish all Cambodian people that their families be healthy and happy. And I wish all students and businesspeople success. But for me, my most important wish is that Cambodia be free from pressure and persecution, especially all the victims of land conflicts and injustice.

Reported by Chun Chanboth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun.

Comments (6)

Anonymous Reader

CNRP has presented itself as an alternative since the party was formed. Where were you? CNRP is an alternative to CPP 30 years of human rights abuse and corruption. An alternative to illegal logging and alternative to dictatorial rule by the CPP thugs. CNRP was there to support Chut Vuthy to stop illegal logging, CPP thugs were there to kill him. There are many cases like this, all you have to do is read and use your brain to see the difference.

So it is about both parties presenting themselves, which one is Saint and which one is Satan. The people can see clearly which is which, but the CPP thugs wanted people to see them in a different light. Really? You can't put a lipstick on a pig and expected to be beautiful woman. It's not reality.

Dec 23, 2015 12:59 PM

Anonymous Reader

You are missing my very point entirely .Does CNRP and including you want to operate in the political choppy water or pull yourself back and examine things what went wrong and rectify them. look at what has happened now , do you think it is good from the cnrp's prospective ?. it is amost literally destroyed. The political stalemate and the CPP got the upper hand.
What your next move ?. Demonize CPP some more? I bet cpp will make CNRP's life hell .The state of quo stays and potentially will get worst ,that CNRP and you wouldn't want to imagine.

Dec 23, 2015 09:12 PM

Anonymous Reader

I tell you what even the demons want a fair playing field . If you are pig headed enough not to give it to them , you can't have it either. It is as simple as that. The CNRP must find its ways moving forward.

Dec 23, 2015 09:31 PM

Anonymous Reader

No, I see your point clearly. You want CNRP to submit to CPP's every move like FUNCINPEC, as I stated earlier. This "choppy water" was created entirely by the CPP to get reaction from CNRP. In politics, nothing run smoothly when you have rivals. Look at the U.S and other countries. The differences are country like the U.S operates within rule of law, where as in Cambodia it run by one man. This is how the CPP thugs got the upper hand by using every mean of their disposables including the corrupt court, the military and the police.

So it's not surprised people demonized the CPP because the CPP thugs earned it. What do you expect? There a simple rule, if you behave accordingly, people will praise you. If you behave badly then people will demonize you. It just common sense which most of the thugs have none.

And again, these situations are decided by one man. He can decide to make it worst or better because the country is run by a wild, paranoid dictator who only sees absolute power and absolute control. This is all he known through his adult life.

Dec 25, 2015 02:42 AM

Anonymous Reader

Both Some Rainsy and Kim Sokha have to be extremely careful when the election time is approaching. The regime would use it's thugs to hurt them physically or the court's monkeys to arrest them. Hun Sen would utilize the dirtiest tricks to eliminate the rivals...

Dec 23, 2015 11:27 AM

Anonymous Reader

Like I said it is not about CPP it is about CNRP which it has to get smarter. It doesn't mean that it has to wholesale itself to the cPP. It has to present itself as an alternative and stands distinctly different from from the CPP.If you want to earn respects from the demon ,you have to give the demon respects too.When you have the demon respects for it make a hell easier to argue with them.And you don't have to demonize CPP because you already know they are demon.

Dec 22, 2015 09:38 PM

Anonymous Reader

Respect? Really? Should I respect a thief who comes and steals my property? What does that say about a country with rule of law? Oh wait, this country is operating by thieves and thugs with made up rule of law....There you have it. So the problems continue.

Dec 25, 2015 02:03 AM

Anonymous Reader

CNRP leadership is bunch of zealot, who can't wait to criticize and demonize the CPP at every opportunity they have yet they don't have the very strong will to engage the CPP. It is regrettable that Sam Rainsy hasn't learned his political mistakes .At this juncture, CNRP they have made their political positions weaker and is at the mercy of the CPP which is absolutely not good of the position to be in .From now on it is all about you CNRP not about CPP that either you make it or you break it.Sam Rainsy is not a decisive leader.He may be very good at attracting the mass supports,but he is not a political slick operator needed to lead his party. Either he must go and replaced by someone else who dares to face the challenges, to do what is right under the circumstances.But Certainly not Kem Sokha

Dec 21, 2015 06:45 PM

Anonymous Reader

I can't believe how how dumb and blinded you are.

What did the CPP do to get demonize by CNRP you might ask? Just look at the long laundry list from closing freedom park to wrongly evicting people from their homes and farms, to using their corrupt court as a tool to silence the critics and oppositions and sheltered those illegal loggers and countless of human rights abuses...on and on.

And you mention a political "slick" operator..hahaha. Really? We see how Hun Sin and his thugs "slick" operator work for the past 30 years and people don't want that anymore as shown in 2013. I must say his slick operator worked real well with FUNCINPEC thou, but people learned quickly. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Now you see, a lot of people don't want to be fooled twice. But the CPP thugs are trying real hard to hold on power, and when they feel that power is slipping, they throw tantrum like a spoiled child. This attitude is not a surprise to anyone because the CPP thugs always getting their ways.

"Either he must go and replaced by someone else who dares to face the challenges, to do what is right under the circumstances.But Certainly not Kem Sokha"

Hahaha...You want leadership you can control like FUNCINPEC. I guess the CPP thugs realize early on CNRP is not FUNCINPEC. So now they are trying real hard to make CNRP life a living hell. Fortunately, people see through this. We will finally see change in 2018, the people and country deserve this.

Dec 22, 2015 01:10 PM

Anonymous Reader

Sam Rainsy is still talking that he is the victim. If anything to go by , he is not helping the culture of dialogue one bit.If he wants to make the cpp's life miserable, he should mark my word for it that the cpp will make his life and party hell, as we have seen so many times over before our eyes. When he decided to join them,he had to find a way to get on with them , that is the fact on the ground otherwise why he even bothered to join them in the first place.
I only assume that cnrp does have a credible political strategy, if they have , it hasn't certainly been working for them. My perception is that Sam rainsy at this moment relies entirely the international pressures on CPP near the elections so that he assumes that pressures will make the cpp concede to allow him back in to take part in the election so that the election is meaningful. That's stupid. you don't want to make the same mistake twice in politics.
My warning to the cnrp is that don't please your die hard supporters too much ,they are majority of the minority that you have to make them understand that your job is in cambodia where the battle is whether it is hot or cold.To engage them intimately just to collect their financial supports and for them to have a feel good factor, at the expense of domestic politics is doomed to fail.

Dec 20, 2015 09:28 AM

Anonymous Reader

I don't think the problem is CNRP's core supporters or the party leadership. The problem is CPPs are terrifying after they saw what happened to Myanmar. The CPP saw the surge in 2013 and they feel in their bone the avalanche in 2018. So this whole thing is all about politic, which is fine. However, the majority of the problems are created by the CPP thugs by playing dirty politics. And there is no surprise by this since they've been at it the past 30 years? You had to be blinded, deaf and dumb not to see this.

The CPP likes to poke at the oppositions and then blame and charge the opposition for reacting to their dirty politics. These are not incidences but a patent pattern by the CPP thugs. The CPP thugs can't stand seeing the oppositions getting stronger because they feel it threaten their power.

Dec 21, 2015 12:20 PM

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