On a Skype connection beamed into the Phnom Penh courtyard of the Human Rights Party from France, self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy claimed yesterday that he will return to Cambodia and campaign in the 2013 national elections.
His remarks brought waves of applause from more than 400 people assembled under an open-air tent, though it’s hardly the first time he has made such a pledge.
Leaders and members of the Human Rights and Sam Rainsy parties had come to Phnom Penh to talk about the newly formed union of their two groups, the Democratic Movement for National Rescue.
Rainsy, president of the DMNR, said the US will help pave the way for his return to lead the new party.
Along with opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua and Human Rights Party head Khem Sokha, he is traveling to the US on August 7 to meet with officials and talk about upcoming elections.
And will he be allowed to return? The government has consistently maintained that this is nothing but a pipe dream.
“I believe that there will be a resolution,” Rainsy said.
Rainsy is barred from registering to vote or standing for office because he was convicted of a crime. In 2010, courts sentenced him in absentia to a total of 12 years for uprooting a post on the border with Vietnam and producing Google maps he used to allege the Kingdom’s eastern neighbour had encroached on Cambodian soveriegn territory.
Sokha, president of the HRP and deputy president of the new party, said that Cambodia will suffer without new leadership.
“We do not let Cambodia fall down into a hole, we’ll rescue it. Vietnam and China are communist countries but they changed their leaders. Cambodia has not changed its leaders yet,” Sokha said.
After receiving the message from party leaders, the members participating in the gathering yesterday vowed to go back and spread the word at the grassroots level.
“I will explain to people what the merger is” all about, said Yuos Saroeun, Prek Tasar commune chief of Prey Veng province said.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, called Rainsy’s thinking “childish” and said the opposition leader was simply “gesticulating wildly”.
“He has looked at the Khmer as a puppet of the United States or a puppet of Vietnam. This is a very big mistake,” Siphan said.