Kem Sokha, 60-year old and vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, talked to Sarah Thust about the election results, necessary reforms and the role of nationalism during the election campaign. Sokha, politician since more than 20 years, says he wants to invest 10 years more in politics. This year’s elections will probably be lost, but the CNRP also grew up to an actual party. 

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Blog Sarah Thust Sokha looks up to his role model Son Sann, Cambodian politician and anti-communist resistance leader, but he also watches his back.

Why did you decide not to accept the election results?

Kem Sokha: We demand justice for the voters. We cannot continue like during the previous mandates. If we make it easy [for the CPP] we would disappoint our supporters, especially the Cambodian youth. There is two very important points that we want to show our people: First, people want change; that concerns especially Prime Minister Hun Sen. For example he still didn’t leave Kandal province, where he lost the elections. He doesn’t accept his failure. We say: If you love Hun Sen, if you want to support Hun Sen and like what he does then go and vote for him. Now that he can see clearly how much he lost, he should step down from power or at least announce when he will stop governing. But he never shows any sign of change as well as the CPP. However, the CNRP will follow the will of our voters. Second, if CPP wins despite voters giving their voice to CNRP, people will not go to vote again, because they feel their voice has no power. Because of those points we can’t give up. We need to find justice for our people and for that we will continue demonstrating. If the CPP and Hun Sen are clever they will show some kind of change.

Is the CNRP experienced enough to overtake power from CPP?

Kem Sokha: Our people can see that the CPP is in power too long. Some opposition party members are less experienced than Sam Rainsy and me, but they still could lead the country. However, we, Sam Rainsy and me, have more than 20 years of experience each. […]

After one week Sam Rainsy left Cambodia again. Does that weaken the party’s position?

Kem Sokha: The party is not only Sam Rainsy. When we organized the election campaign Sam Rainsy was still out of the country. It starts from the grassroots. […]

Will he stay in Cambodia after the election?

Kem Sokha: Ask him. (laughs)

Will you find a compromise with the CPP concerning the election investigation committee? 

Kem Sokha: Right now some of our members are meeting with the committee to discuss again. After this meeting we can say more.

What do you demand from the committee? 

Kem Sokha: We want justice. We want transparency of the results of the elections. We want honor for the winner and respect for the looser.

What will be your priorities in parliament? 

Kem Sokha: We have to discuss short-term and long-term reforms to make sure that [the National Election Committee] becomes independent and no longer consists of party members. Another point is the judicial system that we need to reform. This will take time, but we will start to make it independent. […] There has to be a clear line between executive and legislative. […] The term of the Prime Minister has to be shorter. And also in the government we will increase monitoring and make reforms. We want to end land grabbing. […]

How is your relationship to the Royal Family? 

Kem Sokha: Both, Sam Rainsy and me, used to work with the royalist party. The communists only use the king, but: look at our background – we used to work closely together. […]

Your nationalism caused many public discussions. 

Kem Sokha: Yes, this was very important to the youth, but the discussion about Vietnamese is not one of our main points. We focus on the future. It’s not on the top of our agenda. Before some people used to be misinformed, but now thanks to Facebook they get real information. Vietnamese are not the main worry, but the youths’ future. They are afraid of not finding a job in 10, 15 years. […] The youth is like a blank sheet of paper and this time they were well informed through Facebook. If the leaders talk about Vietnam, then they can’t get the  support of the youth.

Is Cambodia a democracy? 

Kem Sokha: We can’t say no, we can’t say yes. Some parts are already a democracy, but not all. That is why we need the support of the international community to develop.

We want transparency. If the CPP leaders want to meet me, I will only meet them on TV. I want a public discussion and not just talks behind closed doors. This would give them the opportunity to manipulate the outcome.

Since 20 years I speak every day. For grassroot people it is easy to understand. “Do men do” is my slogan. Easy to understand and short. Rhymes.

Who did you learn from? 

Kem Sokha: Son Sann, but also from Buddhism and Non-Violance. The diffrence between Sam Rainsy and me is: If I need to make a decision I call everybody and ask for his opinion. Sam Rainsy makes a decision and then asks support for it. When I had the idea to make our party get together with the SRP, I invited Mam Sonando and many other friends to discuss this idea.

“These people like Kem Sokha, who is a good man, and Sam Rainsy, who is a good man, they saw the danger if we continued to abide by everything the ruling party did.”

Prince Sirirath, founding member of the royal party Funcinpec

Opposition member Ven Dara in Pailin, near the Thai border, is a former supporter of the Khmer Rouge. She is the niece of the former military commander of the violent Regime. Dara still is convinced that the movement never killed innocent people.

However, she now asks for democracy:

“The government is ruling the country since 28 years and Cambodia still is not developed, people become poorer. Our National Rescue Party will bring democracy to the country and develop it to the level of our neighbor countries.”