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Are the curtains falling on “Sam Rainsy’s political comeback”?


In the weeks leading up to what could have been the much delayed and long awaited premiere of the sequel to Rainsy’s political life, Cambodians feared what might have been, while the rest of the world looked on with relative indifference.

For the latter, they no longer wait with unabated breath; they knew from previous disappointments to expect nothing more than shadow puppetry at best, but more likely just another no show. That is not to say there was no drama or entertainment; there were certainly some half-baked effort in a prequel to drum up a little excitement to keep the audience guessing (and paying).

Some cast members were exempted from liability for the failed production, but a few encountered difficulties with the authorities, as they did not read the fine print on their contracts. Surprisingly, others had quite inexplicably invested in the production in one way or another even though they knew from experience it would be a dud, or that it went against corporate policy to have done so.

For these, they cannot recoup their investment. In fact, the price to pay for their poor judgment and selfish complicity is likely a further investment in a failing production, posing greater risks to the integrity and reputation of the holding company in which they own an equal share.

The premiere of “Rainsy’s Political Comeback” with the taglines of returning to Cambodia to “save the country and restore democracy” and “I will return and tens of EU Parliamentarians and US law makers would escort me back home” has flopped. The producer, director and main cast have returned to their creature comforts in Paris to plot the next swindle. More precisely, how to hire more gullible cast members and lure the next group of self-serving investors.


Idealist or Extremist?

The banner under which Rainsy and his motley crew claimed to fight for was for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. Yet, he was willing to resort to calling on the armed forces to turn their guns on the government and their own countrymen, risk innocent lives, the disruption of improving socio-economic conditions for ordinary Cambodians, and the use of false information and fake news to fulfil his personal ambition and selfish agenda of being the next PM. He even insulted the King by calling on him to abdicate, not once but twice, in order to elicit an adverse reaction from people aligned with his dangerous agenda.

Lest anyone is still taken in by such histrionics and grandstanding, it is worth recounting his duplicitous, shameless and dangerous antics. In particular, the red lines that even western liberal democracies distance themselves from.


Self or Country?

He could have rallied support behind Kem Sokha. Instead, he sought to betray his compatriot repeatedly, and was contend to scuttle any possibility of a quick political and diplomatic resolution to his once partner. His strategy was to provoke and keep Kem Sokha locked up. Now that too is failing.


Peacemaker or purveyor of destruction?

Rainsy claimed several days  after the failed 9 Nov return, that “I had planned to organise a long, peaceful and historic march from the Poipet area, on the Thai border, to the capital Phnom Penh. Thousands of migrant Cambodian workers who currently live in Thailand, but wanted to share in the return in a symbolic way, were also to join in the march.

“I had also called on the population inside the country to come and add their numbers to this peaceful and historic march, which was to create an example of “People Power” as shown in the Philippines in 1986.”

Yet, the facts were that in all the weeks leading to the 9 Nov, he spared no effort in undertaking extremist measures of calling for an armed uprising and the overthrow of an incumbent ruling government. He exploited the use of social media to seed innuendos and unfounded allegations to implicate senior CPP officials, just so he could perpetuate his false claims that he had the covert support of the armed forces and senior CPP stalwarts.


Builder of consensus or destroyer of peace?

He could have provided constructive proposals to the government, academics and think tanks on issues that he was personally concerned with. Instead, he would rather hatch a  scheme to devise a strategy to cause fissures and division within the ruling government at all costs without due regard to the safety and well-being of ordinary Cambodians. This speaks of a ruthless desire for power, not for the betterment of Cambodia as he claimed.

He could have sought dialogue with the governments of ASEAN member states and appealed to his opposition counterparts in those countries to support or speak up for his political cause during all his time in exile. Yet, he only did so in the two weeks prior to 9 Nov, and even then, not through dialogue, but grandstanding for the international media.

Notwithstanding the well-known principles of non-interference among the ASEAN governments and the mutual understanding that they will not allow the domestic politics of a country to be imported into theirs, he nevertheless exploited the international attention on his ‘plight’ and subjected them to his devices.

The wily fox was able to press the right buttons, make the right calls to certain persons in these governments, and make them dance to his tune. He was all too ready to exploit the insecurity and vulnerabilities of ASEAN member countries, especially those where he had ties with the opposition-turned-ruling parties, using them as platforms to further and publicise his political purposes. The so-called principles of unity and neutrality, non-interference have now crumbled with what we saw unfold between November 6 and November 13, 2019.


Hero or trickster?

For all his bravado about finally making good on his grand return on 9 Nov, he went to extremes to make sure he had the perfect excuse for reneging yet again on his failure to return.  If his claims are to be believed, in particular by his hard-core supporters, why doesn’t he just come back any time on any airline? Ah yes, he has said before that he would be of better utility to be a freeman (where he could wax lyrics about democratic change, and continue to stab his compatriots in their backs).


What next of his shenanigans?

Rainsy and his gang of despots face a few dilemmas owing to some miscalculation on his part.

Firstly, the Kem Sokha effect. Despite his repeated prodding of Sokha to leave the country when he could, Rainsy was hugely disappointed when the former chose instead to stay to face the courts for his alleged crimes. It was certainly not out of concern for his welfare or wellbeing, it was because of his political relevance. That was why he had repeatedly undermined Sokha, usurped the leadership position (even though it is already dissolved and holds no other meaning other than a symbol, which Sokha had by then assumed).  As time passed and the anticipated release of Sokha drew near, he became desperate and made errors in his moves. It was also equally incredulous that he had presumed that Cambodians, diplomats and the international media were gullible enough to believe his deceit and lies in the past, how he had exploited the garment workers and students in 2013/2014 for his personal gains. Nevertheless, the release of Kem Sokha from court supervision was announced – on the conclusion of investigation, before Rainsy could proclaim or declare credit for such an eventuality. Of course, as has been his usual trademark, he shamelessly claimed credit for the occurrence nonetheless, but at least this time round, it did not have the detrimental effect of scuttling or deferring the inevitable.

Secondly, Rainsy also did not expect that the western countries would keep silent on his call for an uprising, etc. Blinded by his thirst for power and his narcissistic behaviour, he did not know that a regime change agenda is no longer in vogue.  The peace and stability narrative in this increasingly fragile world is no longer just applicable to the Kingdom, it is also applicable to the region. He had not calculated that the United States would distance itself from his extremist measures when President Donald Trump, officially declared that the United States will not support regime change in Cambodia. Khmer Times has copies of this and other documents.


Thirdly, Cambodia is not blind to the geostrategic calculations and necessities. It had to do what it had to do for national survival. Having achieved LMI status, it is cognisant of the need to re-calibrate its stance, diversify its economy and international engagements. It will continue to build on existing strong relations with friends, near and far, that have helped its economic development and security independence. But it will have to re-double efforts to strengthen relations with others, especially those that have now reached out to the Kingdom. It needs more strategic space to hedge and manoeuvre in. It needs to identify more with ASEAN and with Southeast Asia. However, the irony is that some member countries seem to have fallen for Rainsy’s claims of possible torture and death if he returned.

Lastly, Sam Rainsy is outdated. Cambodia’s governance and bureaucracy are certainly not perfect, but it still enjoys robust economic growth and poverty rate has reduced year after year. The general wellbeing and living conditions of ordinary Cambodians have been better. The perception of the CPP government may not be ideal, but it is far better for change to come from within, than for an upheaval to the status quo because of an external imposition.

It is time to bury destructive politics. It is time for peace and stability to not just be a propaganda cliché, but to be the true underlying conditions for Cambodia’s economic growth and development. It is time for Cambodia’s development partners and all Cambodians – regardless their political inclination, whether CPP or Opposition – to usher in a new era of Cambodia’s domestic politics. It is time to let the curtains fall on Sam Rainsy’s political career.

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