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.