SELF-EXILED opposition leader Sam Rainsy vowed in a public speech Friday night to meet his supporters in Phnom Penh soon, but did not tell them when that would be or discuss details of his pardon.
But an opposition lawmaker said Rainsy was in Singapore – with an expired French passport – and was trying desperately to have documents processed so he could return to Cambodia on Monday.
In a Skype video conversation played to thousands of Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters in central Takhmao town, Kandal province, Rainsy inspired an already-vocal crowd with election rhetoric, but did not reveal his whereabouts or immediate plans.
“Don’t worry, I will meet all of you soon in Phnom Penh,” he said.
A CNRP official and former lawmaker who asked not to be named told a Post reporter that Rainsy was, for the moment, stuck in Singapore.
“He plans to come to Cambodia on Monday,” he said. “But right now, his French passport has expired and he needs a new one. So we’re not sure when he can be issued another.”
In an email Friday, Rainsy said he was "most grateful to King Norodom Sihamoni" for granting him a pardon – which means he will not be arrested if he returns to contest July 28’s national election. He previously faced the prospect of years in prison if he returned.
But during his speech, Rainsy kept the crowd of mostly young people guessing about his movements.
A number of them said they were planning to meet their party leader at the Phnom Penh International Airport on Saturday.
For the most part, the rally in Takhmao was half rock concert – replete with heavy rock riffs, disco beats and altered versions of Gangnam Style – and half comedy-sketch show.
But for the nine or so minutes Rainsy spoke, his face beaming out from giant screens, it was probably the most exciting political rally seen in the 2013 campaign so far.
Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando, speaking on stage later, repeated the familiar catch-cry “Change or not change?” to the fervent crowd, before speculating on what life under the opposition might be like.
“If the CNRP wins this election, everything will change. Don’t fear a war, because the CNRP loves peace,” he said. “We’ll change from bad to good, from difficulty to success.”
Thousands of people on motorbikes – primarily youths – flooded into the streets of Takhmao town in the late afternoon and evening.
The sheer number streaming back to Phnom Penh after the rally suggested a large percentage of them were city-dwellers.
Kong Buna, 25, an economic management graduate from Build Bright University in Phnom Penh, said he had been inspired by news that Rainsy was returning.
“I was so happy when I heard that the King had pardoned Sam Rainsy and when he claimed he was coming back to Phnom Penh soon,” he said. “I hope the CNRP wins the election – if the NEC can be trusted to allow it to win – and the new government resolves all the problems of the youth and of poor communities."
Unemployed, Buna said he hoped the new government could create jobs for people like him.
During his Skype chat, Rainsy made a plea to people like Buna, encouraging youths especially – and everyone else, too – to vote on July 28.
“I heard that about 10,000 youths are gathering in Takhmao town and some authorities have blocked them from coming,” he said. “But don’t worry, I will meet all of you soon.”
But some were left disappointed that Rainsy had not confirmed his travel plans.
“Why did he not focus on when he’s coming back here?” asked a monk in the crowd.