Born in 1950 as one of the seven daughters of former Prime Minister Khiek
Tioulong, Tioulong Saumura spent much of her childhood in Paris, Tokyo and
Moscow. In her words, she was raised to be "rose in a vase." Saumura studied law
at the University of Paris, and earned a post-graduate degree in economics in
1974. In 1980, she graduated from the European Institute of Adminstration and in
1988 obtained an additional degree in financial analysis. She was director of
two banks in Paris before returning to Cambodia in 1992 and serving as deputy
governor of the National Bank of Cambodia.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Tioulong Saumura on the campaign trail ahead of April's commune council elections.
An economist, MP and mother
of three, Saumura is an engaging admixture of aristocrat and activist.
"By my behavior and deeds, I try to show that a woman can be a good
wife, good mother and still stay involved in things outside her inner
circle-especially politics. Most of the time words are empty, what is important
is what we do," she told the Post.
Earlier this month Saumura was elected
to the Inter-Parliamentary Union's Standing Committee for Sustainable
Development, Finance and Trade, the first Cambodian to hold any position in the
150-nation federation of lawmakers.
Saumura talked to Charles McDermid on
Before this interview you asked if this would be the first
article that didn't refer to you as the wife of Sam Rainsy. Why is this
When I was young, I was known as the daughter of my father.
Now, I'm known as the wife of Sam Rainsy. Everyone says this, and I'm always
introduced as the wife of Sam Rainsy. I am a human being in my own right, and I
have had to fight for my own identity.
All men are biased against women.
It makes me furious: even the best man, in the bottom of their hearts is still a
male chauvinist. I think I am married to the best of the best, and even Sam
Rainsy is one.
What makes me even sadder is even women are chauvinistic.
They are especially that way in Cambodia, but in advanced countries as well. So,
I have a long fight before me.
This explains why I am what I am and where
I am: in politics in the SRP. It's the best place to advance the cause of women.
You said you voted for Nicholas Sarkozy in the French election.
What's he like in person?
I met him during Chinese New Year in 2006. He
was attending a celebration in Paris' Chinatown and I was invited. I sat right
in front of him. He's shorter than I would have thought. I wouldn't say he has
charisma, but when he spoke, I found him genuine, convincing. One of his best
friends is a Sino-Khmer restaurant owner in Paris. He maintains friendships with
Khmer immigrants. I find this moving and not typical of the French. He himself
is the son of immigrants and perhaps has a glimpse of their
What was your childhood like?
I had a very
protected childhood, and I've kept a kind of shyness. My father used to say,
when people asked him how many children he had, "No children, only seven
daughters." That's why I don't like to be called the wife of Sam Rainsy. It's a
style of parenting found in many Asian cultures, that doesn't consider a girl an
asset to the family. But it was a very protected environment, and people always
knew my father and mother. That may be why people have said I have an
Well, it's difficult to talk
about yourself, but it wouldn't surprise me. I didn't come from a family of
farmers or traders or restaurant owners. Even my grandparents were civil
servants and ministers and things like that. My roots go back to an aristocratic
family. I don't see myself this way. I've always been curious about things, and
I've always gone to places I wasn't supposed to go.
Who are some
women you admire?
The Queen [Norodom Monineath Sihanouk]. She has an
extraordinary character. Not only do I admire her - but I love her. She's a
great model of a woman. She's much more active than appearances show. Another is
Madam [Marie] Curie. She was actually brighter than her husband. Fortunately, he
died or the findings they discovered together would have been attributed to him.
There are many cases like that.
Are you brighter than Sam
I'm better than him on certain points, and worse on others. We're
a good complimentary couple. When we were in France, we were both working. I
made more money. He got a lot of enjoyment out of this actually. It takes a
strong man to have an educated wife with a strong character. This is not the
case of most men.
What's your assessment of the Cambodian
There is an unfair distribution of wealth. This is not a social
analysis -just sheer economic -and it doesn't bode well for future growth. Why?
In order for sustainable growth, distribution must be as fair as possible. We
need to see more emergence of a middle class - they are the ones that consume,
invest and save, and constitute the social and economic fabric of the country.
If there's no middle class the economy is not solidly based.
to the past, how would you describe the opposition movement today?
much stronger then I've ever seen it. Our party is a leading force now and we're
much more deeply rooted in the country than ever before. Activists for our party
are everywhere. It's a real party and if Rainsy were to disappear - and in the
past, with all the threats to his life, we used to ask: what happens now if he
disappeared - someone would come forward. The movement would generate a
different kind of leader; the party wouldn't go down the drain. The party wasn't
formed by Sam Rainsy, but it's his ideas that are the enzymes for the chemical
What's Sam Rainsy like?
He's a dreamer, a thinker.
He's deeply lost in his thoughts trying to find solutions. He's not an organizer
like you would expect. Rainsy is so disconnected, but he has a magic. He sends
messages through non-ordinary means and his organization succeeds through these
means. He succeeds in mobilizing people. His life has been hard, dangerous,
stressful - and it was painful when we went to funerals for all those years. I
think, looking back, that the best part of all this is that I've had the best
seat to observe the magic.