Editor's note: With four months to go to the general election, scheduled for
July 27, the Post has requested to interview senior members of the three major
parties - the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), its royalist coalition
partner Funcinpec, and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). The Post is
awaiting responses from the CPP and Funcinpec to our interview
Sam Rainsy: ëThe only true royalist party is the SRPí.
What has changed politically and socially since your party
became the opposition?
We have had a difficult task, but have faced an
exciting challenge - to push the government to go in the right direction, or at
least to prevent the worst abuses.
The situation is not good in Cambodia.
We know about poverty, human rights violations, corruption, environmental
destruction. Without the opposition, I think the situation would be
Looking back on the past five years, the changes the SRP have
helped bring about are not visible - instead they are changes in the mentality
People have learned to think, they have learned to be more
critical, they have learned to protest. I think this is the biggest contribution
the SRP has helped to bring to this country.
Now there are demonstrations
nearly everywhere, everyday. But I am not involved - I do not need to be
involved personally, because the people handle their protests themselves. They
get their voices heard. The government and the donor countries now start to take
into account the feelings of the people who protest.
In summary, the SRP
has helped bring about a change in the mentality of people. Before change
becomes visible, change has to take place in the minds and in the hearts of
people first. At the very least I am very proud to have contributed to
But are you concerned that protesting has become more dangerous
since the Thai riots?
Yes. In our capacity as representatives of the
people, as members of parliament, we must defend the rights of the people. Next
time there is a threat against the right to demonstrate, then if necessary,
there will be SRP MPs who will go to ensure rights are protected.
not satisfied with the present situation. When the liberties and freedoms
enshrined in the Constitution are not respected - for instance the right of
association. There are principles stated in the Constitution, but there are no
implementing laws. So we have to fill the vacuum as soon as possible, like the
law on association, like the law on decentralization.
decentralization] the village chiefs who were appointed by the ruling party [in
the 1980s] are still there. We want the new village chiefs to be selected and
appointed democratically by the commune councils, which were elected last year.
What is missing are instructions on the procedures from the Ministry of
Interior. We have written to the government three times asking why they have not
issued them. They are blocking the situation, which means the laws are not
How much difference will that make to the SRP's campaigning at
the village level? Is it set to be a problem?
Yes, a major problem,
because the village chief is the real boss. The commune is a little bit further
away. The commune is made up of two, three, sometimes more than ten villages,
which are scattered, and the life of the village is centered around the village
He can control justice, security, the organization of the village.
He oversees the ten house village cells, the communist-type cells. They know
that this family has raised the SRP sign, his neighbor supports his friend, this
is the family of this guy.
When voting day comes, they will transport
their supporters to the polling stations. But the SRP supporters are poor, they
don't have means to get transport, so there is discrimination.
is involved, we are not equal. Nowadays the village chief has many hats - he has
the hat of the CPP, he has the hat of the village chief, and he has the hat of
the election officials.
So this election is biased since the very
beginning. Had the village chiefs been changed according to the law in the wake
of the commune elections, things would be much different. But it is not too late
- there are four months to go. They drag their feet not to allow any change of
This is why I call on the donor countries who financed
the local elections - what is the use of the local elections, but then you don't
even care that the results of the elections are implemented properly?
have your party congress on March 28 and 29: Will there be more defections from
We manage the defections in waves, because the psychological
effect must be repeated periodically. Approaching the election there will be
more defections, then in the last days before the election there will be the
most important defectors. We want to make the biggest impact in the last
Does that imply there are bigger fish to come?
bigger fish. There will be more, and of high rank. The psychological effect is
in the timing and the ranking of the people who join us. So we have to manage
the timing and the ranking. The closer to the election, the higher the
As regards the King's half-sister, Princess Norodom Vacheara -
there have been persistent rumors she will defect and be made number one on the
SRP ticket in Phnom Penh.
I don't want to make any comment. I don't want
to confirm or to deny. It is up to the concerned person to proclaim their stance
when he or she thinks it is appropriate.
Looking at the election strategy
for the SRP: What are your plans over the next four months?
is first to welcome Funcinpec, which is disintegrating. So we have to come up
with schemes and arrangements and formulas where the best elements who want to
continue to serve the country can feel comfortable they can do it with the
The strategy is to show that Funcinpec will disappear from the
political scene. Maybe they will still have some presence in 2003, but in 2008
they will be no longer on the political scene.
Our strategy is to show
the only asset Ranariddh uses to cheat the people is that he represents [King
Norodom Sihanouk]. We are going to come up with messages from the King saying
that Funcinpec is not the King's party.
To summarize Ranariddh's speeches
- the only thing he says that attracts people's attention is that if you like
the King, vote for Funcinpec. So we have to counter this by using selected
statements by the King saying Funcinpec has nothing to do with the
[There was] a statement by the King [in his recent monthly
bulletin]: When Ranariddh said that he believed Funcinpec would still be a
leading party, the King wrote in his bulletin "rêve", which means "dream". He
said: Don't dream. Only one word and the King discards this pretension of Prince
There is no doubt the royalist vote is a drawcard,
particularly in rural areas where most voters live. That would make getting
someone of the stature of Princess Vacheara into the SRP fold that much more of
The second message is that the only true royalist party is the
SRP, because Prince Ranariddh has contributed to tarnish the image of the
monarchy ... by his association with a regime that has caused corruption, human
rights abuses, immorality. This does not serve the monarchy, does it?
SRP will concentrate on what we have in common with the monarchy. It will be an
important element to have some royals with us, but I don't mention any names -
just as a principle saying the real royalists, including some of the best royals
themselves, are with the SRP.
And the SRP will in its platform commit to
defend, to uphold and to increase the prestige of the monarchy.
strategy will be improving living conditions through social justice and the
fight against corruption. The most important issue in this election is how to
improve living conditions. People are poor, people are hungry. People are
waiting for who will address the poverty problem, and bring food and basic
necessities. There my main competitor is not Funcinpec, it is the
The CPP says it wants to address poverty. We want to address poverty
- only the means differ. They will address poverty through donations. The poor
have to rely on the CPP for donations and handouts. We have another message: We
say that this gift comes from corruption money, a little left that they
distribute to you. We say: Take it, this is your money ... but vote for justice,
vote against corruption.
That means ... go to vote with your brain, with
your heart, because with justice your living conditions will improve faster and
more permanently, and your dignity will be re-established.
We have to
educate people about the real alternative - that these donations are not a real
solution. It is putting the country back on its feet, ensuring better
governance, promoting social justice, curbing corruption, bringing in more
I know it is a difficult task. Not everybody will
follow us in this reasoning, but if half of the people follow us it would be
enough. If only one-third do, it will be a great change. And I think people will
understand this message.
How can we counter the [CPP's] force of money?
We have to use the force of ideas. Hun Sen says: If you vote for me, I will
build an extra road, an extra bridge. We have to counter that. This is not a
donation from Hun Sen, this is the government's job. Any government should do
How many seats do you hope to win?
To have one-third [of the
seats] at the National Assembly, we need 42 seats out of 123. But in fact for
the NA to convene, they need a political party with 37 seats to cooperate. So
with 37 seats we would have a say in any decision by the future
With 42 seats we definitely will be part of the government.
So this is the minimu,.m, but we expect to be able to achieve a better result. I
do not exclude working with some elements of the CPP to be part of the next
So does your strategy include working with the
The SRP is willing to work with the CPP. My appeal is that please,
CPP, don't consider SRP as your enemy. We can work together. We have many things
There is common ground for us to work together. Maybe some CPP
elements would reject that, then let them reject it. But if there are some CPP
who accept my proposal, my overture, then I would be glad to work with
We are in a politically tense time now. How much worse have things
become since the beginning of the year for you and SRP members?
I am very
concerned that as the election approaches the intimidation will increase,
because they see this trend [of SRP support] is like a snowball effect. They
want to break the snowball, and if they cannot break the whole snowball they
will do whatever they can to prevent it from growing.
That is why I
launched an appeal to observers to come now. There are new methods, new tricks,
of neutralizing the SRP. They target the best elements of the SRP, the most
popular, the most efficient, the most effective. Suddenly they find themselves
accused by the CPP of involvement in some crimes.
And your personal
I think that will depend on the last day. They will not kill me
now, but when they see the snowball getting bigger and rolling over their heads,
then they will consider. Now is not the moment. The SRP is not that dangerous
yet. Many things can happen - there can be internal problems within the SRP;
Funcinpec can be given more means to distribute donations. Now they can contain
it, but they know there is a trend that could be dangerous.
say you won't work with Hun Sen, but how can you avoid working with him after
The CPP has to resolve its internal problems. The CPP will
have to choose who will be its candidate for prime minister. I will take into
account the CPP decision. But I have said I would prefer to work with a new
leader, a new figure. I think dialog, cooperation, would be much better than
with Hun Sen, because Hun Sen represents a system that has failed. Why should we
insist to keep a system that has failed? We have to change the system.
you think Hun Sen will quit?
Ask Saddam Hussein whether he would like to
step down. Ask him ten years ago, he would say no. Ask him five years ago, he
would say no. Ask him two weeks ago, he would say no. But ask him in two weeks,
the situation will be much different.
Hypothetically speaking, if after
the election the SRP is in a position to form a coalition with the CPP and Hun
Sen refuses to step down, will there be a political crisis, and who will solve
I am amazed - I am not blaming you - but I am amazed by the
mentality of people who say Hun Sen is immovable, that he has to be in the
picture forever. He is not God. Only God is eternal.
But everyone seems
to be afraid Hun Sen does not want to step down, that he will be here all the
time. People who think like that are prisoners, until things change and suddenly
they will say: 'My goodness, yes. What should have happened a long time ago has
at last happened.'
Currently people are so rigid. I see so much rigidity
in the minds of people ... that Hun Sen has to be there all the time. If you are
really exceptional, maybe you can be there a long time. If you are Lee Kuan Yew
making Singapore the second-most developed nation in Asia, then
But what is the achievement of Hun Sen to be eternal? Half of
Cambodia's forest has been destroyed, it is one of the poorest countries in
Asia, the mortality rate is among the highest, corruption is rampant. What is
the achievement to be so grateful to Hun Sen that he must [remain]?
will people vote for the SRP?
People are fed up. The poor, the ordinary
people are fed up of living in poor conditions. Hun Sen has been in power for 18
years; the people have been poor for 18 years. When they hear the words
'progress' and 'development', they say: 'Those words are for other people, not
They want a change. Usually people are fatalist, but after a
certain period of time and with the young generation - I count on the young
generation - they are not fatalist. They see the shortcomings of the government,
they see the abuses, the injustices. They see an alternative. They know in other
countries you can prosper because of competence. They want a society based more
on merit than on affiliation.
In the young people this force can only
grow. Every year 220,000 people reach the age of 18. Since the last national
election [in 1998] there are more than 1 million in an electorate of 6 million.
Next election 2008 you will have nearly one-and-a-half million more.
I base my assessments it is not on abstracts. I look at the social changes. One
is demographic trends, more and more young people. They think differently from
their fathers and grandfathers. Their expectations and judgments are different.
The second is social, which covers many aspects. One is urbanization. In
the city information circulates and people understand faster and are less afraid
than those living in isolated villages in the countryside.
education: If you go to school and you can read and write ... you can get more
information. Another is better roads and better telecommunications. This works
in favor of democracy.
What are your best and worst case scenarios for
the number of seats?
We have 15 seats [from the 1998 election]. Then we
were not organized, our network did not reach the commune, not even the
district. We were in the big cities and we got 15 seats. But now our network
goes down to the village. So it is totally different from 1998.
example: In 1998 we had 800 party signs all over the country. Now we have 5,000
and by the election we will have 8,000. All the main villages will have one
party sign, which means we have one family supporting the SRP. But in the
village if you have one family supporting the SRP, you have relatives, you have
neighbors, you have friends.
So from 15 seats, how far are we going to
move? There are two types of provinces. There are eight provinces and
municipalities with only one seat, so that is very difficult to win a seat, you
have to be the number one party. There are 15 provinces with three seats and
In the smaller [of these] provinces we expect to have one seat. In
the medium-sized provinces we could expect to have two more seats. In
medium-sized provinces with six seats, [another] two. In the large provinces we
can get up to three seats [extra].
Actually we aim for one-third. In
Phnom Penh we will move from four seats to minimum six or even seven. So an
average of two extra seats in the 15 larger provinces means 30 extra seats,
which will [take us to] 45 seats.
So definitely we will get one-third,
with the disintegration of Funcinpec, with this new message to reduce poverty.
And we have more means also ... we raise more than half [our finances] within
Remember that in 1993 ... the CPP got only 38 percent. In 1998
only 40 percent. That leaves non-CPP forces with 60 percent. The local elections
were something exceptional. With more young people, the percentage of CPP voters
should go down, not up. So one-third is the minimum.
The worst scenario
is between 40 and 47 seats. But with a more pronounced disintegration of
Funcinpec and with the big fish at the end of the campaign, and with the good
message we will deliver, it will go higher than one-third.
That would be very good. The surprise can be only a good surprise. How good will
be determined by how transparent the election will be. But we will still have to
work very hard.
Are you concerned at problems with defectors joining the
ranks and getting offered good seats?
There are some people who say the
SRP will split because it cannot absorb the newcomers from Funcinpec, it cannot
swallow the big fish. But no, [the party members] understand. I told them it is
like a cake: If the three of us can produce this cake, we have one-third each
and have a small piece. But if you accept people who can bring more flour, more
eggs, more sugar, we will make a bigger cake and you will end up with each of us
getting a bigger portion.
Some of the Funcinpec do not come to take our
seats; they bring an electorate. We are very selective. When we give a position
we make sure he brings voters.
But there were concerns?
some concerns. There are always some frictions, some tension, but I can tell you
that as of today this is minor. You don't see anybody shouting, protesting, or
threatening to leave the party. They are reasonable. They see it is better to be
part of a winning trend and win together.