News / Asia

Exiled Opposition Leader Pledges to Return to Cambodia

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Sept. 10, 2012 file photo.
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Sept. 10, 2012 file photo.
Robert Carmichael
Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, says he will return to the country before the hotly-contested general election, scheduled for July 28.  With an 11-year jail term hanging over his head, it is far from clear what will happen to Rainsy if and when he does come back.

Sam Rainsy’s announcement during the weekend that he will return to Cambodia will doubtless thrill supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the coalition of key opposition parties that combined to contest the election.

It is also a problem for the long-serving, authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as it comes at a time when Cambodia’s political situation is coming under greater scrutiny.  On Tuesday, the United States will hold a Congressional hearing on Cambodia’s constrained political landscape.

The exiled Sam Rainsy has said on previous occasions that he would return, but then did not.  Political analyst Chea Vannath believed this time was different.

“It seems like this time it is more than a bluff - he used to say that he would come back, but he never did.  But this time it is different circumstances so the likelihood is that he might really come back,” she said.

Among the dynamics she identified were the increasing numbers of young voters who felt an affinity for the opposition, and optimism the CNRP would do well in the ballot.  International pressure helped too. 

Rainsy left Cambodia in 2009 before two court cases, both of which related to the country’s contentious, ill-defined border with Vietnam.

The courts jailed Rainsy for two years for uprooting a temporary border marker, and a further nine years for disinformation after he showed off a map whose borders, the government said, were wrong. 

The jail sentence was widely seen as a clumsy attempt to use the courts to hobble Hun Sen’s most trenchant and effective political opponent.

Rainsy was also stripped of his parliamentary seat and has been banned from running in the election.

Rainsy said this weekend that his return would test the government’s claim the election would be free and fair.

The government maintains Rainsy is welcome to come back.  But government spokesman Phay Siphan said Monday he expected the courts would carry out their responsibility - in short, that Rainsy would be arrested and be compelled to serve time in prison.

But arresting the leader of the opposition would tarnish Cambodia’s international image and embarrass some of the donors who provide large sums each year.

Chea Vannath said jailing Rainsy would also risk turning him into a martyr.  She believed a face-saving deal can be struck, one that Cambodia's king, who is a constitutional monarch, could help to bring about.

She pointed out the king’s late father mediated solutions to political problems when he was on the throne in the 1990s.

“It [would] be possible if the compromise that: from the airport, go to jail.  And after that, then compromise somewhere,” said Vannath.

That, she said, would prove a mutually beneficial solution - even if it involved Rainsy spending only a few hours in prison.  Some sort of penalty needs to be paid, after which a royal pardon could in theory be employed.

“That is a possibility.  And also I give more importance to the role of the king rather than the international community, because the prime minister is quite irritated if somebody said that he does something because of the international pressure - he feels that Cambodia is a sovereign country, not under pressure of any foreign country. So the king is much, much more appropriate than the international community,” said Vannath.

The opposition is optimistic Rainsy will return before voting day and that his presence will boost their chances. But if he changeed his mind, Chea Vannath said, many of his supporters would be disillusioned and 2013 could mark the end of a lengthy political career.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Gary Fultheim from: Long Beach ,Calif
July 08, 2013 8:20 PM
Hope Sam Rainsy goes to Prison and stays for a long time.
He is a crimminal and was convicted. how can the International community expect cambodia to have rule of law when a politician like SR pulls up Federal Border Posts? He has been responsible for lost trade, lost aid, and delays for economic progress. Some of his Long Beach supporters are involved with criminals also.Some Congress members that help him have had support for the Khmer Rouge and or convicted felons...cambodia and the world is better off with Sam Rainsy locked you for a long time.
In Response

by: seng from: Orange, Ca
July 09, 2013 12:05 PM
You would rather have Hun Sen for the 40 years? If you called out someone as criminal, at least learn how to spell it correctly. Please enlighten us with Sam Rainsy's criminal activities.
In Response

by: Chhuon Ly from: Tacoma Wa
July 09, 2013 5:51 AM
As a Cambodian American, I'm truly offended by your ignorant statements about Sam Rainsy, his supporters and the political and economic climate in Cambodia.

You as a civilized human being need to do more research to truly understand what is going on in Cambodia.

In Response

by: Camboy
July 09, 2013 1:59 AM
Cambodia would be better off with Hun Sen.
In Response

by: GoodSamaritan from: Los Angeles, CA
July 09, 2013 12:36 AM
Wake up kid. You are being brainwashed by Communists. Get an education. Take a class in world history or something. Cambodian court is a Kangaroo court. Removing a border post is not a crime. It is rather an act of vandalism. In United States and other democratic worlds, the penalty is a few hundreds fine or a few hours in jail, but not two years. Criticizing the government is not a crime either. Cambodians should thank him for being patriotic.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs