On August 22 the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy, invited me to his office for the interview I’ve been waiting for since weeks.  Together with Robert Carmichael we talked about: 

  1. The results of Cambodia’s election
  2. The process to form a new government 
  3. The role of the international community
  4. The CNRP’s attitude towards Vietnamese (Click here to listen)
  5. The CNRP’s plans with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal ECCC 
  6. Sam Rainsy’s future as politician

Dieser Text ist nur auf Englisch verfügbar.


1. The results of Cambodia’s election

ST: So far, you won 55 seats. Is that a victory?

Sam Rainsy: Yes, to some extent it is a victory. But if the election has been fair we would have got more. We would have got more than 62. 62 is the number of seats that any party needs to form a new government.

ST: Do you think the election results will be revised?

Sam Rainsy: Yes; but in one way or another we will push for the truth to be exposed and for justice to be rendered to the voters – meaning to the Cambodian people, whose will has been distorted, even reversed by what has been published so far, that we would never recognize.

ST: Critics said you have not used the right strategy concerning the investigation panel.

Sam Rainsy: I’m prepared to let them take my position and to act for the CNRP, if I’m really convinced that they have a better strategy or better tactic to follow. But I think what we have been doing so far is the right approach, because it is peaceful. It’s based on the law, based on true process and this is supported by many independent organizations from the civil society, which back our position, because the National Election Committee (NEC) doesn’t want to reveal facts and documents. They pretend that they have not done anything wrong, but if this is the case they should accept to open the documents under their custody, so that everybody can verify whether there is wrongdoing or not. But since they persist on withholding facts and figures and documents this leads to suspicion, I think well founded suspicion, that they had been involved in vote rigging.

ST: Hun Sen threatened to form a government despite the election deadlock.

Sam Rainsy: Actually, without saying openly, I would encourage Hun Sen to do so, because then he will commit political suicide. If he takes the seats that the Cambodian people have voted for SNRP (sic!), and he takes all those seats for his party, this would be a return to a one party system, to the communist regime, which would be totally contrary to the spirit and the letter of the 1991 Paris Peace D’accord of Cambodia. It would be a violation, a terrible violation of an international treaty and seeing Cambodia going back to the communist system, the one-party system. I think, Hun Sen would make a very, very serious mistake. So as his advisor, political advisor I want him to do that, because he would commit political suicide.

ST: Do you think Hun Sen will make concessions to the CNRP?

Sam Rainsy: It is possible. I think everybody, including Hun Sen, has to be realistic. I think, as I just said, nobody can afford to live isolated, cut from the rest of the world without the recognition, the respect of the international community. If you have no legitimacy you cannot really progress. So, Hun Sen understands that. This is the soft power from the world, from the western world. The western world will not use force as we saw examples in the past. The western world has not as much money as China, but the western world has something that is unique. It is the soft power, it is the position that the western world has to determine legitimacy precisely, based on democratic principles.

2. The process to form a new government

RC: Are the negotiations about the electoral investigations with the ruling party finished?

Sam Rainsy: You can’t make any conclusion yet. I think the negotiation at the middle level has not brought any result, but the next step should be negotiations at the top level. Because when I talked with Sar Kheng, the Minister of Interior, a few days ago, before we resumed this election, this would be transitional and the final objective is to have the top leaders to talk together. We first have to show that the negotiations at the intermediate level lead nowhere. … But the top leaders can’t move in immediately. It’s part of the protocol. …

RC: How’s this all going to get resolved?

Sam Rainsy: First, now, it’s the role of the constitutional council to say whether results as proclaimed by the CPP first, then confirmed by the NEC, whether those results are legitimate. Because they have, in theory, the right to challenge those results and to order the NEC to open some of the documents and to start investigations into some of the complaints the NEC has rejected so far. This is the normal procedure, but I think this is not enough.

We need a separate mechanism to address this political situation which is unique. A special situation requires a special mechanism to solve the ongoing problem. This is the first time that after an election the two parties met together in order to find a solution. It shows that the solution, that is coming from the NEC, from the constitutional council would not be accepted by all parties, especially not by the opposition. Knowing that they have accepted a separate procedure whereby the two parties discuss together. And we will continue, hopefully, to discuss in order to find ways and means to avoid a deadlock. … I think we engage in this process, so I think it is premature to say whether it will … to what extend what kind of solution it will reach. But I can only tell you that we will not compromise on principles and we want the full truth to be exposed. Based on truth the voters will see that justice will be rendered to them. …

3. The role of the international community

ST: Do you expect the international community intervene in case the deadlock can’t be solved?

Sam Rainsy: No, this is the modern world. The modern world is that you need international recognition, you need legitimacy, you need cooperation; cooperation with the rest of the world, you need investment, you need trade, you need assistance, of course. But if you’re not recognized by the rest of the world how can you commit Cambodia, if you pretend that you represent Cambodia, but most of other countries don’t recognize that you represent Cambodia? Therefore you cannot commit Cambodia, you cannot engage in any project on behalf of Cambodia. Especially you cannot borrow money. Cambodia’s economy now is so weak that it relies on borrowing more and more money. But nobody will trust you; nobody would lend you money, if you don’t represent Cambodia from a legal point of view. It is why the fact that the election results – as proclaimed by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), by the NEC -, these results have not been recognized by the democratic world and the democratic world will not recognize either any government arising from such illegitimate election. So this puts a growing pressure on the CPP to accept a solution, a mutably agreeable solution to solving election irregularities.Time: China is a strong partner for the CPP, while CNRP has close ties to e.g. the US.
SR: I think any country wants to have good relations with Cambodia and Cambodia wants to have good relations with every country in the world. But some country have been a little bit hasty, I would say imprudent to congratulate the CPP on their so-called victory. It is a miscalculation. But in the end everybody will support the winner, the real winner, the legitimate winner.

4. The CNRP’s attitude towards Vietnamese
(click here to listen)

ST: The CNRP’s attitude towards Vietnamese was often criticised, many said you went too far. What is your statement?

Sam Rainsy: I would like the so-called experts, journalists or observers to do their homework first before making any judgment on Cambodia. They should study history, they should study geography, they should study linguistic, na? Before saying: “Ah, Cambodian people are racist and CNRP has been taking, adopting positions that are xenophobic etc.” No, it is totally wrong. Just to give you one example… Many things turned, revolved around the word yuon, because we call the Vietnamese yuon. Some people say yuon is very offensive, is the rogatry word for Cambodian to call the Vietnamese yuon. This is totally wrong. The word Vietnam, as we’re supposed to call the Vietnamese, the word Vietnam is a new word. It’s less than one hundred years. The existence of this word, of the concept of Vietnam itself is very recent. We Kmae, you may call us Cambodian, but Kmae is the original word, we have been in contact with an ethnic group that now we call Vietnamese 400 years ago. 300 years before the word Vietnam or Vietnamese was created we had a relation with that ethnic group we call yuon. So since Vietnam has more influence than Cambodia after 1979, it is politically correct to call the yuon Vietnamese, but politically incorrect to call the Vietnamese yuon. That is the difference between politically correct and offensive or derogative. So, this is linguistics. And if you know a little bit of Thai language, this is linguistics again, the Thai call the Vietnamese yuon an nobody says that the Thai are racist. So you have to compare Geography, linguistics and history. And if you know a little bit about geography that different places in Cambodia with the word yuon: Pret (Canal) Yuon, Banteay Yuon (a village in Pursat), the Yuon citadel. Because as I told you we call yuon before the word Vietnam was created. In our every day language there are expressions dating back hundreds of years. … It would be politically correct to change all those words, but the tradition – you can’t change the tradition. Even the name of the dishes, the geography, the ordinary language… How can you change this? Impossible! But when you write article, of course; when you make public speech, if you want not to be accused of being racist. But I don’t care! This is a reflection of the Cambodian culture and if you look at the dictionary, at the most authoritative dictionary, written under the supervision of a Buddhist patriarch, who is the most respected scholar in Cambodia. You look at the word yuon: Nothing! (By heart:) Yuon Hanoi meaning Tonkin. Yuon Anam meaning the regional centre Vietnam and Yuon Cochinchine. So it explains in a very objective manner and says there is nothing derogatory at all. But some newcomers, you know, so-called experts etc. they do not grasp the whole history and say only superficial “oh, this is not politically correct”. But they confuse politically correct with derogative and what they don’t understand either; I would urge these European people, if they want to understand a little bit the Cambodian culture.

The country in Europe that can be compared –at least to some extent to Cambodia – is Poland. Ask the polish people: are they racist towards the German, towards the Russian? No, but this is history. They feel they are caught between Germany and Russia. The history of Poland is always resisting invasion from Germany, invasion from Russia. And Poland at one point of time disappeared from the map of the world. And they are very conscious in their collective fear, in their history, in the memory. We can’t say they are racist, but they fear the German and they fear the Russians and they do whatever they can to strengthen their identity through Catholicism, culture… Cambodia is the same. We fear for our very survival. Even now in Palestine. I think the Palestinians they are not racist against the Israeli. But when they see the settlements, that more and more Jews come to settle and to live in their land, this is a policy of fair comply. They’re afraid that one day they will be outnumbered in their native land by people coming from different cultures… In Cambodia also. When we see illegal immigrants coming more and more, we fear that Cambodia could one day have the same fate as Kampuchea Kraom. Kampuchea means Cambodia, Kraom means South, what we call Kampuchea Kraom now is southern Vietnam. That land used to be Cambodian 400 years ago, again, it’s a long time. Through immigration is a way to swallow other countries land. You bring settlers from different country and the other country will swallow. Look at Tibet and you can understand the fear of Tibetians. Can you say the Tibetans are racist, can you say the Palestinians are racist, can you say the Polish are racist? You should study their culture to understand their fears. In order to address this issue you have to ensure the rule of law, to ensure that immigration is under control. When you want to control immigration it doesn’t mean you are racist. Every country implements immigration policies. In the US they chase the Mexicans away. It is not racist, it is the rule of law, you have to protect your national interest first.

5. The CNRP’s plans with the Khmer Rouge Trial

ST: What are your plans to deal with the Khmer Rouge past?

Sam Rainsy: To have a real tribunal that can operate as an independent tribunal. Only the UN appointed judges are independent judges, but the rest – and they can block the whole process – are appointed by the Cambodian government, by the ruling party. And you know that many leaders of the ruling party and many leaders in the current government are former Khmer Rouge. So they have no interest to let the judicial proceedings go on smoothly, because any serious investigation by an independent court would lead to some of the current leaders. Investigations should concentrate, at least should shed light on the change of command under the Khmer Rouge regime and how the massacre was a decentralized process. It is not right to put all the blame on Pol Pot or on a hand full of Khmer Rouge leaders. I think they’re scapegoats, because the whole system, the killing of three million, at least two million people, is not only the responsibility of Pol Pot and a hand full. The middle ranking, the echelon also took initiative. The killing was also left at their initiative. And at the middle ranking we find many CPP leaders now – former military commander Heng Samrin (chairman of the National Assembly of Cambodia), former district chief Chea Sim (president of the Senate), (Prime Minister) Hun Sen also was a former military commander. Many other leaders who have been summoned by UN appointed judges, but they declined. But in other countries you go to jail, if any judge summones you and you don’t go. But here in Cambodia, we see Hun Sen encouraging Hor Namhong not to go, ordering Khieu Chon not to go. But those are more than suspects, if they want to clear their name they should go. But if they don’t go that means that they have to hide. This tribunal is a joke and the lesson is never organize a tribunal to prosecute criminals, never organize in the country when those people are still in power.

6. Sam Rainsy’s future as a politician

ST: How long do you want to stay in politics?

Sam Rainsy: It is not a matter of personal position, how long or what other people want. It’s the objective. The objective is to bring about a democratic change in this country. This country is not the private property of any person, of any family. Hun Sen considers that this country belongs to him, that after him his son etc. I know only one country like that – North Corea. This country is not North Corea, this country wants to live isolated from the world, but Cambodia cannot afford to live isolated. We heavily depend on international assistance. We need trade, in the textile industry the big market is the US, is the European Union. We need to borrow money, because our economy is in shamble – this is another topic. But we cannot afford to live isolated and therefore we have to abide democratic principles and this to meet expectations that people who have been helping Cambodia expect Cambodia to move on a democratic path and not to remain a backward country with a man, a family wanting to control this country forever. This is anachronistic.

ST: So will you run as a candidate for the next elections?

Sam Rainsy: As long as I prevail I would do anything in any position as long as it helps to promote and ensure the victory of our ideals. This is why in the beginning of this negotiation with the CPP, the CPP would like us to immediately discuss power sharing. But we respond to them that we’re not interested in power sharing for the sake of power sharing in personal positions, in personal privilege. They were used to discuss with (the royalist party) FUNCINPEC. The only thing that interested FUCINPEC was position, was money and the CPP first thought that they would easily buy us and that we would easily sell out to them. This is a big mistake. We are not the same category, we can’t be put in the same category of people. What we want is a democratic change, it’s a principle. We will never compromise on principles.

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