SAM RAINSY has openly sided his Khmer Nation Party (KNP) against CPP leader Hun Sen
in a political situation he sees degenerating into "crisis."
"I feel very close to Funcinpec," he says of the Royalist party that ousted
him from its ranks last year.
"People speculate that I have a personal animosity toward [Funcinpec leader]
Prince Ranariddh. But personal feelings have never been my predilection.
"I share Funcinpec's same ideas and principles - whether these have been implemented
is another story - but we speak the same language.
"But with Hun Sen I don't feel comfortable," Rainsy said.
"His culture, training, background, principles, methods and language... it would
take me five years to get along with Hun Sen, whereas I could work with Funcinpec
While the KNP could provide a significant advantage to Funcinpec in the current political
turmoil, Rainsy's advisors are wary of aligning the KNP so closely to Ranariddh so
They see much scope for Hun Sen and the CPP to discredit Ranariddh, Cambodian Development
Council chief Sun Chantol, and Funcinpec in general over business deals such as Royal
Air Cambodge and Ariston.
When asked whether such deals would blight a Funcinpec/KNP partnership, Rainsy said:
"Blood spilled is worse than the money. Funcinpec has very little blood on its
hands... one can forgive many things..." However, the KNP is watching where
the Funcinpec/CPP relationship moves in the coming months, and its leaders are confident
the party can exploit whatever vacuum is created.
A week ago Rainsy signed his 100,000th member and the party list is growing by 600
to 700 each day.
Soldiers, students and monks stand in line with others each morning to join. "I'm
a bit worried about the soldiers wanting to join. The CPP might think I am moving
to arms," he jokes. "But even the soldiers are fed up with corruption.
And many haven't been paid. I am getting [military] members from all parties, Funcinpec,
BLDP and even CPP." However, KNP's are mainly attracting dissaffected Funcinpec
The KNP has backed Ranariddh's threat to dissolve Parliament and withdraw from the
coalition, and agreed that Funcinpec must be allowed a 50-50 power share with CPP.
"Funcinpec would greatly serve the interests of Cambodia by starting to dismantle
the Communist-type system which the Vietnamese-backed CPP has installed and maintained...
for the last 17 years," according to a March 27 KNP statement.
"It's not too late," Rainsy said of Ranariddh's decision to distance himself
from CPP. "It's the right timing. Any longer and it would have been too difficult.
"CPP is not impregnable, CPP will split," he said. "It's not Ranariddh
taking a risk of being isolated. It's the whole strategy of many people to isolate
"Since CPP don't want to give what Funcinpec is entitled to we're heading for
Rainsy said he had been two years ahead of his time predicting this sort of political
breakdown. The departure from "human rights and democratic principles",
and secret, corrupt business deals, had caused the coalition to unravel, he said.
He said of Hun Sen paying 200 military chiefs $1,000 each in cash and duty-free vouchers
for cars as "a big mistake." He said such a pay-off - done a few days before
CPP announced the contentious Jan 7 national holiday - did not guarantee loyalty
in the long run.
Rainsy said he had consistently denounced the CPP as being subservient to Hanoi,
a notion Ranariddh was now following "but in language that is unsuitable. [KNP]
would never consider the use of violence."
The KNP - and Rainsy - have been slammed by some as racist. Rainsy disagrees: "All
I'm talking about is CPP being too lenient with Vietnam in accepting border encroachments."
He said there were many arbitrators which could moderate, such as the United Nations,
which the CPP had not even considered using.
"To say I'm racist is unfair. I'm the only political leader to defend the Vietnamese
activists from being deported, because this is against their human rights. I'm being
consistent in defending human rights. I'm not anti-Vietnamese," he said. Rainsy
said the "rule of law" should be used against all illegal immigrants, particularly
the "hundreds" of Chinese illegally entering Cambodia and buying Khmer
passports from corrupt officials.
The KNP has also been charged of having links with the Khmer Rouge. Rainsy said there
were two differences: one, that the Khmer Rouge operated outside the Constitution
and law; and two, that the Khmer Rouge used violence.
"We are as far away from the Khmer Rouge as we are from the government,"
he said. "There is not even a defacto alliance between ourselves and the Khmer
Rouge... that would bring more problems than advantages. It would be silly for me
to tap into the Khmer Rouge when there are so many liberal forces to use."
Rainsy has been bankrolling the KNP from overseas Khmers and businessmen in Cambodia,
after first having done so from his own pocket. "But now [the party] is just
He is flying to California later this month to lobby the large Khmer population there.
There are KNP offices in every Australian state, he said, and in France and New Zealand.
"Some businessmen are now turning to KNP saying 'We want to be on good terms
with everyone. We don't know the future but we want stability.' This is not corruption.
They saw me as an honest minister, and now they want to help me."
Rainsy, on March 24, played an "ace" he'd been thinking about for three
months to gain legitimacy for his party by packing the vote of a small, recognized
party - the Liberal Reconciliation Party (LRP). Rainsy was elected leader and the
LRP's name changed to KNP.
The government has yet to decide on whether to recognize the move. Rainsy is expecting
some "government trick" though he says the vote was lawful.
The LRP - though small at only 5,500 members - consists mainly of former students,
many of whom led demonstrations against government corruption before the elections.
Five students were shot dead by soldiers brought in to control the riot.