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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy to return, pledges SRP overhaul

Rainsy to return, pledges SRP overhaul

Admittedly encouraged by the government's "new spirit" of clemency towards

activists and government critics, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he is hopeful

and excited about his return to Cambodia , and plans an immediate overhaul of the

Sam Rainsy Party.

"We are organizing elections in every single village throughout the country,"

Rainsy told the Post in a February 8 phone interview. "All our leaders will

be elected from the bottom up, not appointed from the top. This is very important

reform that we intend to complete by the middle of the year."

The opposition leader, and former Minister of Finance, confirmed his intentions to

stand for the office of prime minister in the 2008 national election.

"Of course [I will run]," Rainsy said. "Any political party intends

to win power, and the leader of the party to be the top politician in the country.

The SRP is no different."

Rainsy was issued a royal pardon by King Norodom Sihamoni on Febuary 5, nullifying

an 18-month prison sentence for criminal defamation against prime Minister Hun Sen

and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. The pardon came after Rainsy

wrote apologetic letters to both leaders.

"We cannot accept when the opposition party plays its role with a hostile attitude.

Being in the opposition doesn't mean you have to insult the government. We are Asian

and we are Khmer; we have our own polite language," said government spokesman

Khieu Kanharith. "We saw that Mr Sam Rainsy accepted that he made a mistake.

Therefore the government can be lenient to those who made a mistake and later on

accepted their mistake."

Kanahrith denied claims by many political observers that the government's recent

goodwill has been influenced by the diplomatic pressure and concerns about the impending

donor meeting in March.

"Resolving the political conflict was not the result of international pressure

or the government worrying about the upcoming meeting of the donor countries,"

Kanharith said. " It was a result of those who accepted their mistake in front

of the government. I met some of the donor countries and they praised the government.

There is no connection to the political conflict."

In a speech on February 6, Hun Sen said parliamentary immunity will be restored to

Rainsy, and fellow opposition parliamentarians Cheam Channy and Chea Poch in the

next session of the National Assembly

"When foreigners interfere in Khmer [affairs], it is not an easy way to solve

the conflict. Everything has been resolved and it was not from international pressure.

Khmers can make disputes, and Khmers also can solve the problem," said Hun Sen

in his speech. "I am not a coward politician, and I want to compete with the

strong opponent."

Rainsy's return comes in the wake of a new round of public criticism aired on Funcinpec's

Ta Prohm radio station. On Feb 8, Funcinpec official Noranarith Anandayath, said

that all Rainsy's statements are "tricky lies" and that he has destroyed

the hope of his party members.

"I think that Prince Ranariddh is a follower," said Rainsy. "He follows

Prime Minister Hun Sen, so I have to deal with Hun Sen first, which I did. The rest

will follow."

According to Rainsy, the resolution between he and Hun Sen was brokered by a number

of international diplomats and finalized through a series of personal conversations.

"I think we have achieved something very significant in the last few weeks,

even days, and it is the dialogue that has been established between the government

and the opposition," Rainsy said. "We have to adapt our style and methods

to the new political situation because the government has a new attitude towards

the opposition. It is not just a big challenge for us, it is a big challenge for

the government-if this new spirit is to be preserved."



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