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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy remains hopeful of return from France

Rainsy remains hopeful of return from France

Rainsy.jpg
Rainsy.jpg

Sam Rainsy: 'As a fake democracy, Cambodia is a country with only a democratic facade made up of apparently democratic institutions, which are functioning in fact in the most autocratic way. A fake or perverted democracy is more difficult to deal with (because it's more insidious) than a dictatorship that is universally recognized as such.'

Cambodia is going the "Burmese way," says opposition leader

Sam Rainsy. But he doesn't see himself as the country's answer to jailed pro-democracy

leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In this interview via email from France, Rainsy discusses

the impact of his absence and the future of his embattled party.

Post: What effect do you think your absence has had on the party?

Sam Rainsy: Limited effect since, as everybody can see, the party is holding well

and functioning as usual. This proves that the SRP had become, since long before

the recent events, a real and effective organization. Nothing to do with a "one-man

show," as some people used to depict it. Otherwise, how could a man alone have

collected more than 1.1 million votes (representing 22 percent of the electorate

throughout the country) at the last election in 2003?

P: What has to change to allow you to return to Cambodia?

SR: When Cheam Channy, Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun are released from prison and parliamentary

immunity is restored for Chea Poch, Cheam Channy and me.

P: What options are there if you are unable to return?

SR: I am convinced that, with democrats standing firm, the political situation in

Cambodia will evolve rapidly in the next few weeks or months. In the meantime, I

am using all modern communication techniques to keep in touch with my colleagues

and my fellow compatriots in the country. I will return much sooner than some people

may think.

P: If you did return and were arrested, could there be a benefit

for the party, in solidifying support locally or raising the level of attention for

the SRP internationally?

SR: Such a benefit would be small compared to the psychological and political setback

for the party (including the demoralizing effect for grassroots supporters) if I

were to lose the possibility to speak and to act with total freedom worldwide. With

the recent arrests of Cheam Channy, Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun, everybody already

knows how serious the situation in Cambodia is. If its president were to be silenced

and held hostage, it would be difficult for the SRP to remain the conscience of the

nation and the voice for the majority of the Cambodian people who have already been

silenced.

P: Do you see yourself as an Aung San Suu Kyi-type character?

SR: Except for the Dalai Lama, no living Asian political leaders can be compared

to Aung San Suu Kyi, who enjoys a unique international stature and prestige on our

continent. The way Aung San Suu Kyi has accepted to be detained over the last 15

years may be the appropriate strategy for the democratic opposition in Burma given

her international stature. But for Cambodia, even though the current Phnom Penh government

is increasingly following the "Burmese way," there are other possible and

viable options for the democratic opposition to continue its fight in our country.

P: Various senior SRP members have seemed to share the leadership

and/or spokesperson role of the party while you have been away, including Mu Sochua,

Son Chhay, Eng Chhay Eang, Ung Bun-Ang and Tioulong Saumura. Who do you see as the

emerging leaders of the party?

SR: All of them, and you've failed to mention many others.

P: Kem Sokha is another opposition voice that would appear to fit

closely with the SRP's political position. Will there be a role for him in the future?

SR: Of course, he will play a leading role. All democrats will be united in order

for democracy to prevail.

P: Kong Korm's recent appearance alongside Prime Minister Hun Sen

raised a few eyebrows. What message was he trying to send with this appearance?

SR: I have been in touch on a regular basis with all my colleagues including vice-president

Kong Korm. Our adversaries want to create suspicion and distrust within the SRP.

I will not fall into their trap. We must not pay too much attention to "rumors"

which are fabricated to serve a specific purpose.

P: There has been a lot of talk about the internal reform to the

party. What reforms have taken place since February this year?

SR: Reforms are going on slowly but steadily to strengthen internal democracy within

the party and therefore to eventually strengthen the party itself. They are based

on two principles: 1) party leaders at all levels (local, provincial, national) must

be elected by party members at the corresponding levels, bottom up. 2) all party

leaders can be dismissed (impeached) any time by party members who have voted them

in, according to appropriate procedures.

P: Will the party be the Sam Rainsy Party in 2008 or can we expect

a name change?

SR: There will be a name change when we have the assurance that there will be no

administrative harassment or political trick (in the form of a split of the main

opposition party engineered by the ruling party such as the one happening with the

Khmer Nation Party just before the 1998 elections) to prevent us from taking part

in the 2008 elections. This would entail a more independent judiciary.

P: How much support is the SRP receiving from the National Democratic

Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI)?

SR: Satisfactory support.

P: Have you felt that the international community (through embassies

in Phnom Penh) has supported the role of opposition this year, or have you felt let

down?

SR: The main job for local diplomats is to maintain good relations with governments

of countries where they are posted. Understandably, they have to think of their careers

and you cannot expect them to be too critical and to openly take risks by "rocking

the boat" or "making waves." Instead, they tend to turn a blind eye

to many irregularities and abuses. But there are informal talks and alternative channels

to convey appropriate messages to governments of democratic and friendly countries.

The latter do pay attention to the recent authoritarian drift in Cambodia.

P: Considering the way the SRP has been attacked this year, can

Cambodia still claim to be a democracy?

SR: Cambodia presents just a facade of democracy. This year, even the facade has

started to crumble.

P: The word "dictator" has been used more and more to

describe Hun Sen (even by the Prime Minister himself in a joke during his October

17 speech in Kampong Cham). Do you believe Hun Sen is a dictator and if so, could

you explain why?

SR: As a fake democracy, Cambodia is a country with only a democratic facade made

up of apparently democratic institutions, which are functioning in fact in the most

autocratic way. A fake or perverted democracy is more difficult to deal with (because

it's more insidious) than a dictatorship that is universally recognized as such.

P: How are you feeling about the SRP's chances in the 2008 election?

SR: Our main priority is to obtain a more balanced and more equitable composition

of the national election committee (NEC), which is currently made up exclusively

of representatives from the CPP and its docile ally Funcinpec. We are calling on

the international donor community to stop endorsing dubious elections in Cambodia

by financing them and/or by sending "experts" and "observers."

In which democratic countries elections are organized exclusively by the ruling parties

with total exclusion of the opposition from the electoral process? Who can decently

label such elections as "free and fair" or simply "acceptable"?

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