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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sam Rainsy, the voice of the Cambodian opposition in exile

By Francois Bougon
Translated from French by Pok Peuk

From his exile in Paris, Sam Rainsy, the leader of the Cambodian opposition prepares himself for a quick return to Phnom Penh . For him, the death on 15 October 2012 of former king Norodom Sihanouk provides a perfect opportunity for the regime which sentenced him to twelve years in jail in 2010, to redeem its injustice. "In Asia, face saving is a must. There are situations that would allow some to save their honor," he argues from his apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

"Experience shows that there is always a solution, this is not a legal issue but a political one. Sihanouk's death will encourage the solution policy ," the former Minister of Economy and Finance of the Government of coalition between 1993 and 1994 weighs in. In 2006, Sam Rainsy was pardoned by the king after being sentenced to eighteen months in prison. This time, he sent letters to Hun Sen, the Prime Minister, and to Norodom Sihamoni, the king who is Sihanouk's son, to allow him to "see the face of the hero-king for one last time." The former king died in Beijing at 89 and his body was repatriated back to the Cambodian capital.

Relationships between Sam Rainsy’s family and Sihanouk illustrate the tragic history of the Kingdom of Cambodia during the 20th century. His father, Sam Sary, a French speaker and a Francophile just like Sihanouk, fought alongside the latter after the World War II in order to obtain independence from France for this small country wedged between two giants: Thailand and Vietnam. In 1954, Sam Sary was part of the Cambodian delegation to the Geneva Conference for peace in Indochina. Thanks to his tenacity, he made the kingdom – which was under French protectorate since the 19th century – able to assert its existence despite the strategic greed of the Superpowers which was willing to sacrifice it and despite the appetite of neighboring countries. However, the faithful Sam Sary, a high ranking official of the regime and Minister of Economy, Financial Affairs and Planning, started to break away and he became to the eyes of Sihanouk a "traitor to the nation" after he left in exile and became involved with the anticommunist "Khmer Serey" opposition movement. Sam Sary eventually would killed by his own allies. 

"The Banana Kingdom" 

Sam Sary’s family, including his son Rainsy, fell the downfall and they eventually left for France which became his adopted country. Rainsy, meaning "light" in Cambodian, was named in honor of Paris (known as the City of Light) and French philosophers from the 18th century, continued his high school study at the French Lycée Janson-de-Sailly [in Paris] and graduated from Sciences Po [Political Science University]. Following a stint as a Financial Analyst in a large bank, he finally tasted political action by getting involved with Cambodian refugees who fled the Khmer Rouge horror. During that time, he also became closer to Norodom Sihanouk. "He can blamed for a lot of things, but he has two qualities that explain Cambodian respect for him: his integrity and the fact that he has always fought for the independence of his country," Sam Rainsy explained about Sihanouk. 

After a brief stint at the head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance in the coalition government between 1993 and 1994, Sam Rainsy then left to form the opposition and he never ceased to denounce Cambodia’s strongman, Hun Sen, who came to power since 1985. Hun Sen was a former Khmer Rouge soldier who switched to the Vietnamese which occupied Cambodia from 1979 to 1989. In 1991, the Paris Agreements was signed and it led to national reconciliation and political pluralism which, ironically, was never practiced. Sam Rainsy argued: "This is a Banana Kingdom led by a mafia state built around corruption, human trafficking and drug dealing. In order to hide the reality of a single party state, Hun Sen always made use of the monarchy." 

Nevertheless, for the opposition leader, the moment of truth beckons: the opposition is now united. His political party, the Sam Rainsy Party, and the Human Rights Party decided to merge for the general election in July 2013. "If we look at history of Eastern Europe, the opposition must be united to win, this is sine qua non condition before 2013." To lead the election campaign, Sam Rainsy expects to be physically present in Cambodia to challenge Hun Sen. 

1949: Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital 
1965: Left for France. 
1993-1994: Minister of Economy and Finance in the coalition government. 
1995: Formed the opposition movement.

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