In a triumphant homecoming speech at Freedom Park on Friday, Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy promised to “rescue the nation” if his party wins the National Election on July 28.
Just hours after stepping off a plane from Bangkok and walking on Cambodian soil for the first time in almost four years, Rainsy stood proudly alongside his deputy, Kem Sokha, and a host of party faithful, as he outlined his vision for the Kingdom’s future.
“I believe the CNRP will win this election . . . And I promise to rescue the country with our policies,” he said to an excited crowd of about 20,000 that cheered every few sentences their leader bellowed. “We will stop all the conflict and we will work together to fix this nation.”
In an apparent reference to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Rainsy also threatened to reject the election result if “the NEC [National Election Committee] claims that one other party wins”.
Rainsy was grateful to King Norodom Sihamoni for pardoning him last week – thus guaranteeing his freedom to return without being arrested – and was almost boastful of the fact he was back in time for the ballot.
“I promised to all of you that I would return before the election – even if the government arrested me and put me in prison – and here I am,” he said. “The court painted me a colour, and now they have cleaned that colour from me.”
During his impassioned speech, which lasted about 45 minutes, Rainsy delved into the CNRP’s increasingly familiar policies, promising to “implement all of them”.
“We will provide free medical care for all – including CPP members who have no money,” he said. “We will provide 40,000 riel [$10] to the elderly, including the parents of CPP members. We will increase the salaries for civil servants to 1 million riel ($250) per month, including to CPP members.”
Rainsy also spoke of creating more jobs to prevent people from leaving the country for work and “illegal migrants” coming in their place.
“I urge all of you to please vote early on July 28 so we can change this country into what you want it to be. Don’t forget number seven.”
Because of the massive turnout to see Rainsy at the airport and along the parade route to the rally, CNRP supporters at Freedom Park, who ranged from small children to the elderly, waited hours longer than scheduled to see their leader.
Warming up the crowd ahead of Rainsy’s arrival was opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who between bursts of song said it was time to “reform everything, including the NEC”.
Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando – who received something of a hero’s welcome himself when he walked on stage – spoke of the need to transform the country.
“Don’t be scared by the CPP’s threats of war,” Sonando said. “We must change from dictatorship to democracy.”
Also keeping the crowd entertained was a band and a comedy skit featuring a fortuneteller who advised farmers nervous about cassava prices to vote for the CNRP.
Scores of supporters stood on motorbikes and some perched high up on tree branches, while a number of locals took to their rooftops to witness Rainsy’s speech.
Among the crowd, Nom Lay, 47, from Prey Veng province, said she had supported Rainsy for 15 years.
“I awoke in the early morning and drove a motorbike here, because I love Sam Rainsy,” she said before his arrival. “I’ve supported him since 1998. Right now, I miss him and I heard he will return today, so I came here to welcome him.”
Kem Sokha said supporters such as Lay had witnessed a moment in history.
“Today is a historic day for all of us joining together here to win this election,” he said.