Tens of thousands lined the streets outside Phnom Penh International Airport this morning, offering a hero’s welcome to opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, whose return ended nearly four years of self-imposed exile in France.
As he emerged from the gate arm-in-arm with his Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha, a scream went up from the crowd.
“I have returned to rescue us”, Rainsy shouted before the truck carrying the duo began its slow trip amid the throng of supporters lining both sides of Russian Boulevard.
Rainsy’s return comes one week after the granting of a royal pardon requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen and signed shortly thereafter by King Norodom Sihamoni. The longtime face of the opposition had faced a prison term of 11 years on charges ranging from defamation to incitement.
As this morning’s convoy wound its way down the street toward a planned rally at Freedom Park, cars with loudspeakers followed, riling up the crowd.
“Change or no change?” a man shouted over a loudspeaker.
“Change!” the crowd screamed in response before launching into a sustained chant of “Sam Rainsy! Kem Sokha!”
“It’s time for a change,” Ministry of Education staffer Le Hour, 32, told the Post amid the crowd. “In the office, I’m CPP, but I don’t really support their policies.”
Asked if he thought the CNRP now stood a chance in light of Rainsy’s return, he expressed optimism, with a caveat.
“If the election is free and fair, he will win.”