Interview: Sam Rainsy says CNRP ‘Will Not Fall Into Their Trap’

RFA: Will the CNRP maintain its recent stance of remaining quiet about personal attacks while focusing on important national issues, or will it return to an approach of leading demonstrations to get citizens including the youth involved on issues such as the border, deforestation and illegal logging, and corruption?

Sam Rainsy: We will continue to keep our stance to be quiet, not answer, and not argue. We will not give importance to personal and individual issues. But we will continue to focus on the important and vital issues of the country, such as territory, land, land concessions that have seen our country divided into pieces for foreign and private investment companies for 99 years. These are the most vital issues that have a serious impact on our country's destiny, on the daily life of people who lack jobs or work for very low income, Khmer farmers who lose their income every year as their livelihoods decrease, and those who have to leave home and family and immigrate to other countries looking for jobs. These are the issues that we will definitely be focusing on.

RFA: So does this means that CNRP officials and members of parliament may start to be active in protest again, leading youth and activists on the border and illegal issues?

Sam Rainsy: We will not fall into their trap. They wanted to divert our attention from national issues, the important ones that I mentioned, because they do not know how to deal with or do not want to or cannot deal with them. They have ties with invasive foreigners. They've been corrupt to the bone. They've sold the country's property as if it was their own. They've been involved with bad investment companies who harm the Cambodian people. They will not solve these problems. To divert our attention, they have created small, unimportant, and personal issues. So we will not fall for their tricks. We have to continue to take actions to find solutions to these vital issues for our country and our people and the younger generations.

RFA: Deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha is facing a summons to testify in court, while the party refuses to cooperate, citing parliamentary immunity, and authorities are threatening arrests. If there are arrests and people are sent to prison, what will you do, with the party head in exile and his deputy in jail? Do you have any strategy to deal with this situation?

Sam Rainsy: First, we are focusing on issues of national interest. Then, we will look into the personal and individual issues, which we have to somehow find some solutions ourselves. The party will help find some solutions, and each organization will have to take some measures. But we should not let these individual issues be used in trade-offs. To have our nation survive, there need to be sacrifices. If they take us as hostages-arresting 10 or 100, or put hundreds or tens of thousands of us into jail, so it will be. Let those culprits who committed such bad deeds harming people and violating human rights show their hand. People will hate them more than ever. And the history will denounce them more and more than before. We should not trade an individual matter in a deal over a national matter. We as an individual will die one day, but our nation must not die.

RFA: Do you feel regret that you did not return to Cambodia last year as you once declared and do you have any bold idea to return to Cambodia to share the ups and downs with other members of the party?

Sam Rainsy: Whether I return or not is not important. We know what the CPP wants and what the CNRP wants. First, the CPP. They know that the Cambodian people have suffered and are hurt and want to change the leader of the country. Last election, we know that there was not a fair election, thus we lead the demonstration for a just election and National Election Commission reform. Then, we won the election. Now the CPP knows that if there is a fair and just election again, they will lose again and they created tension, threats, and intimidation. Whether I return any time now or in the future, I believe there won't be any difference at all. Because the CPP has their own goals. With the problems they have been creating so far, we must know what they want. Nobody knows better than the CPP itself that the Cambodian people hate them, that they are frustrated, they want change. The actions of the current government leaders have been seen becoming worse and worse: problems in the country, problems of people's living conditions, corruption and injustice in society. I do not need to mention that, but the Cambodian people are hurting badly and very concerned about the destiny of our country and our children. So no one wants the current ruling leaders to continue leading the country in their way any longer. Thus, the CPP clearly knew about the situation that if there is a next election which is organized by the new NEC with the CNRP and civil society representatives in it, they can no longer steal votes. They agreed to have an election, but it was held under their supervision and order, and they could steal the votes as they wish, and they always won . But in the 2017 and 2018 elections, the CNRP negotiated and held demonstrations and we pushed our demand that if there is no restructured, new NEC, we would not join the national assembly meetings. Then, after the new NEC was set-up we had achieved our goal. So in the upcoming elections, the CPP will definitely lose the vote. That's why they are very afraid, very frightened, and they have to create problems, create incidents -- do whatever to derail the smooth process of the elections, including unrest, violence, threats to intimidate the Khmer people so they do not dare to express their ideas, their opinions, their will. Because if they can express their own will, then the CPP will lose. So it must be clearly understood that that is why they created these problems. As for the CNRP, our advantages are completely different from the CPP's. We want to have elections, we want the election process to go smoothly and peacefully with respect for the law, and with the people having no fear, so they can vote freely according to their own will. With such election, we will win. When we win, we must re-organize our country and that is our will to rescue our country, rescue our nation. So that is why the ruling party has had to create these problems, harming the civil society, NGOs, the opposition party. By doing that, they have been harming the entire Khmer people. And that has been clearly visible to the public. So, as we clearly understand that we must not give any chance for them to cause us any more problems. We have to be calm, cool and collected so we can win.

RFA: Do you regret not coming back to Cambodia?

Sam Rainsy: I do not believe at all in a scenario in which if I return, the situation will be eased, the people will be happy, no one will be arrested or jailed, and the worst case is only I, Sam Rainsy, will be arrested and no one else will be arrested. The CPP must create stories to arrest me, then arrest others successively to set up a fearful atmosphere to obstruct the process of the elections. We must have our own strategy, we have to weigh between the pros and cons before we proceed to take any steps. I do not want to give any pretext for the CPP to make me regret returning. Why? Because I got news that the CPP had set up a story to attack and commit political violence on CNRP supporters who planned to welcome me at the airport. It is the same kind of incident they set up at Naga bridge near Freedom Park. They came and attacked us, and since the courts are in their grip, they accused us as the attackers instead. So I did not see the benefit from my returning home at that time at all, only losses. And I myself would become a hostage. I am the party leader. If we compare the CNRP to a military organization, if they took the head of the army as hostage, what will happen to the rest of the army? Our army will be in disarray, discouraged, and they [CPP] will twist the story from a national matter to personal one.

RFA: What about Kem Sokha? If there is an arrest threat, do you support him remaining in the country or leaving the country to avoid arrest?

Sam Rainsy: That depends on the situation, the discussion and the individual's consciousness. And I have not discussed that point with Kem Sokha yet. And I cannot revealing anything at this time as the situation is developing from one day to another or even from one hour to the next. We cannot estimate what we must do for the time being.

RFA: The CNRP is facing the likely situation of having no leaders, with you in exile and the deputy head still facing a court summons and arrest if he does not show up before the court. Who will lead the party if such a situation happens within this week or next week?

Sam Rainsy: My idea is different from the current leader of the country, who thinks that only he or his family is able to lead the country. I think otherwise -- that there are many people, youth that are capable of leading the country. So I am not concerned. We believe that there will be many people out there who will come out soon and lead the country, and save the country from danger.

RFA: From within the CNRP?

Sam Rainsy: Within the CNRP! The CNRP is not only a party. No Khmer wants to see our nation die; they want to see our nation survive. If we want our nation to survive, we have to unite to rescue our nation. So I believe the CNRP does not have only Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. The CNRP, CNRP people, the CNRP stance is in the heart of millions of Khmer people.

RFA: Will the arrest of NEC Deputy Secretary Ny Chakriya affect the fair and neutral workings of the NEC?

Sam Rainsy: This is a severe case. Ny Chakriya is from civil society and works with the NEC. So that shows the actions of the current ruling leaders of the country that they no longer pay any heed. They knew that NGOs are the neutral, independent groups that work to safeguard human rights and democracy in Cambodia. That is civil society's duty and mandate. If they now arrest people from civil society, people can see clearly that Cambodia is now in a critical situation and is no longer a constitutional and democratic state, but under emergency state like the staging of a coup d'etat. No respect for law. No respect for parliamentary immunity. They can arrest anyone anytime as they wish.

RFA: In July 2014, when the CNRP and the CPP agreed to work together at that time, did you foresee this grave situation?

Sam Rainsy: At that time our goal was to have the NEC reformed, and we achieved that goal. Our priority is to have a new NEC and a just and fair election. Now what we must do is to ensure a smooth and fair election. This is our present priority.

RFA: You have hinted that there could be intervention from the international community. How would that happen?

Sam Rainsy: There are many measures. What is the most important is legitimacy. So far, the CPP has tried to make itself out to be a legitimate leader. Now the people's vote was still stolen. The CPP's move in the last few months shows that the CPP will continue to steal the people's vote and the international community has seen that. Soon the CPP will lose its legitimacy in leading the country and will lose everything. I believe that that the CPP can be strong for now, but soon they will know that they will lose their legitimacy, then they will re-think things. The international community has many measures to show how they can take away legitimacy from the CPP.

RFA: Recently during a meeting with a high-ranking government official, Ouch Borith, the EU representative raised deep concerns about the independence of Cambodian courts and also called for the release of the opposition party officials, human right activists and NEC officials. The Cambodian official stated that what they have been doing does not reflect ill intention or use of the court against the opposition party, but merely is implementing Cambodia's rule of law. What is your reaction to these comments?

Sam Rainsy: That is the way of communist groups. They never admit that they violate human rights. And the current government is copying the communist method, the Khmer Rouge regime.

RFA: Before the leaking of Kem Sokha 's alleged mistress scandal, there was a suggestion from Hun Sen to kick you out of the CNRP and have Kem Sokha take over as CNRP leader. When Kem Sokha refused to do that, there was the leak about his alleged scandal? Have you ever heard about this while in exile?

Sam Rainsy: I have no doubt and am not surprised, because I knew that the other side wants the CNRP to split up. It also happened to me. Hun Sen used to suggest that I kick Kem Sokha out of the CNRP. But I refused to do so. So it is the same strategy. There were surely moves against me. But we will not split up, because we want to unite for the benefit of the country and the people. The CNRP is moving forward, not turning back. The CNRP will never break up, but will be more closely united than ever.

RFA: Is there any possibility of you returning to Cambodia before the election?

Sam Rainsy: Our strategy will be flexible, and can be changed, but we cannot reveal that, because our opponents will know about it. But I believe and I will find out a way to be present in Cambodia before the upcoming election.

RFA: Do you think the CNRP will win more seats than in the last election or just maintain its current strength?

Sam Rainsy: It depends on the election process. If the election is just and fair, the CNRP, and that means the Cambodian people, will win. I believe that as long as the CNRP remains firm in our stance to stand together on our principles, without being intimidated, bought or split, the Cambodian people will win.

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