Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday appealed to his supporters to remain calm, saying Cambodians still want change, and that is coming soon because his party will win the next election.
Mr. Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, made the comment on his Facebook page in a four-minute video clip uploaded in Manila. Even though the political situation in Cambodia has changed, the opposition remains steadfast, he said.
“We change by voting,” Mr. Rainsy said. “I am Sam Rainsy,” he added.
“Mr. Kem Sokha and our colleagues are gathering in Manila, the Philippines, to determine the party’s strategy in line with the political situation,” he said referring to the arrest warrant issued for him three days before he was due to return to Cambodia on November 16.
“Khmer people who love justice and walk together will complete the mission to save our nation in the near future,” he said on Facebook yesterday. “We decided in our hearts that we will lead the party together towards victory to bring the changes Khmer people want,” he added, referring to the consensus reached during a meeting of CNRP members in Manila.
On November 20, another warrant was issued by Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Kor Vandy. It ordered Mr. Rainsy to appear at the court on December 4 over charges of conspiracy to forge public documents, using forged public documents, and inciting to cause social unrest.
Mr. Rainsy also explained the reasons for previously delaying his return to Cambodia, saying party members were deeply concerned about the violence that could have happened if he had returned to Phnom Penh International Airport on the night of November 16 from South Korea.
Senior representatives of two “big countries” asked him to delay his return, saying it was easier to assist him if he remained abroad, Mr. Rainsy said, without naming the countries.
On November 16, Mr. Rainsy was expelled from the National Assembly by members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which holds a majority of seats. His expulsion resulted in the loss of his parliamentary immunity.
The expulsion followed the issuance of an arrest warrant by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for Mr. Rainsy on November 13. The warrant stems from a 2008 complaint from Foreign Minister Hor Namhong accusing Mr. Rainsy of defamation for alleging Mr. Namhong was a Khmer Rouge collaborator. Mr. Rainsy made the comments during a memorial service at the Choeung Ek Genocide Center that year. In 2011, he was convicted in absentia, sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said after Mr. Rainsy’s speech that the meeting in Manila was to determine the CNRP’s short-term and mid-term strategy to win the commune elections in 2017 and the national elections in 2018.
“I would like to appeal to leaders of all levels and party activists to remain strong and not isolated,” Mr. Sokha said.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed Mr. Rainsy’s statements as hollow words that had been used before. Mr. Rainsy has been saying the same thing since 1995 and it has yet to happen, the spokesman said.
“He is just trying to shore up support because he has lost the confidence of his party members,” Mr. Eysan said.
Because his supporters lost confidence in his party they are breaking away to establish their own parties, he added. “How can he win when his supporters have already broken away?”
In the disputed 2013 national election, the CPP won 68 seats and the CNRP won 55. Mr. Rainsy and other CNRP leaders said they were cheated out of a win. The CNRP refused to recognize the results of the election and subsequently boycotted the National Assembly for one year. The deadlock ended last July 22 when the CNRP and CPP negotiated an agreement that included a guarantee that the National Election Committee would be reformed and that several CNRP members would be released from jail.
“If the elections had been free, fair and honest we would have won,” Mr. Rainsy told Khmer Times in a July 20 interview, adding that many Cambodians agree. “They know in their hearts that the CNRP won the election.”
“The foundation for a change to democratic government is in place,” he said. “We are moving from darkness to light and there is no way back.”
Mr. Rainsy also said in the interview that efforts by the CPP to be more responsive to voters would not translate into votes in the next general election. “The changes are very superficial and cosmetic,” he said. As an example, he cited the Law on Associations and NGOs, which had passed the National Assembly the week before. He denounced the legislation as “authoritarian and brutal.”
“This is their real nature – this is their true face,” he said of the CPP’s efforts to control civil society groups. The CPP faces a dilemma if it attempts to reform, Mr. Rainsy said. “Any real reform would undermine the very nature of the CPP. The CPP’s patronage system is based on corruption and secrecy,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding that increased transparency would destroy it.
Asked whether he had at times lost hope during his three decades in opposition, Mr. Rainsy, now 66 years old, responded flatly: “Not once.” – Additional Reporting by Vincent MacIsaac