Khmer News in En

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Mocks Former Opposition Party Leader as ‘Coward’

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday called on exiled former opposition party leader Sam Rainsy to return to the country, mocking him as a cowardly politician for reneging on a statement that he would return if an order prohibiting his entry was lifted.

Addressing a commencement ceremony at the National Education Institute in the capital Phnom Penh on Thursday, Hun Sen said he listened to an RFA Khmer Service interview with Sam Rainsy on Wednesday during which he said he would return to Cambodia if the government lifted a government order effectively banning airline companies from flying him home.

Hun Sen then ordered the lifting of the ban imposed on Oct. 12, 2016, and dared his long-time opponent to return to the country to face a criminal conviction observers have called politically motivated and handed down by courts controlled by the prime minister.

“The former ban was enforced to avert any danger—not to take aim at banning his [Sam Rainsy’s] rights,” the premier said. “Yet, Sam Rainsy turned it around and said that we were infringing upon his rights.”

“As a leader, we don’t want to see violence erupt when he sets his foot on [Cambodian] soil,” he told the audience. “It’s clear that an arrest will be made in accordance with the court’s power as ordered by the prosecutor and judicial police. The judgments mandate how long [he] must serve in jail.”

Hun Sen went on to say that in less than 10 hours after the ban was dropped, Sam Rainsy changed his mind about returning.

“That is why in my [Facebook] comments, I raised a question at the end as to what has become an obstacle for [his] return—and that is prison!” he said. “And if prison has become such an obstacle, he won’t return during his entire life.”

Sam Rainsy has been convicted in a number of cases brought before the Cambodian courts by Hun Sen or other ruling Cambodian People’s Party members, and has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.

‘Time to get serious’

Sam Rainsy responded to Hun Sen’s comments on Thursday, writing on his Facebook page: “I did say in an email to a journalist on deadline that I would return to the country if the travel ban was lifted. This was shorthand for the restoration of my democratic rights which have been improperly removed.”

“Canceling the travel ban while leaving the rest of the intimidation in place is not a serious advancement,” he continued.

“It’s time to get serious if we want to have a real democratic competition in 2018,” he said referring to national elections next year that could result in the end of strongman Hun Sen’s 32-year reign as prime minister.

“When it comes to cowardice in the fight between two politicians, isn’t the coward the one who uses a country’s tribunal, army and police under his control, to eliminate his opponent?” he asked. “Isn’t the coward the one in the position of a dictator who publicly says he is prepared to physically ‘suppress 100 to 200 persons’—as he actually did when staging a military coup in July 1997—in order to preserve his power?”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the Cambodian government was playing Sam Rainsy like a “yoyo” by pushing him out, then allowing him back by dropping the travel ban, and then issuing news of charges against him to try to push him out again.

“What they are trying to do is they try to show that there was reconciliation after the [commune council] elections,” he told RFA, referring to June 4 local polls in which the opposition made significant inroads, particularly in urban areas.

Taking aim at HRW

Hun Sen also reacted to a statement by Brad Adams, executive director of HRW’s Asian division, who had criticized the commune elections, saying Adams should stop “committing a sin” against the Cambodian government.

Instead, Hun Sen commended the election process in which his CPP won in most areas as having been conducted in a good environment with high voter turnout and no violence.

He said several embassies in Cambodia, including the American embassy, had issued statements hailing the election process, though HRW called it “neither free nor fair.”

“Various embassies including the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh issued statements saying the elections were good,” he said. “Yet, there is … Human Rights Watch saying that the election was not good.”

“Hence, who should we listen to this time?” he said. “For them, nothing is good, in particular so long as the CPP wins. … or until the CPP is dissolved.”

“I want to convey this to Brad Adams: You had better change! Please stop committing a sin [against the government],” he said.

Kem Sokha in Battambang

Meanwhile, Kem Sokha, Sam Rainsy’s successor as head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), told supporters in northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province on Thursday that people voted for the CNRP in large numbers in the commune elections because of the growing number of cases of social injustice under the CPP government.

Addressing more than 1,000 supporters in a voter appreciation event in Prek Preah Sdech commune in Battambang city where the CNRP won in a landslide, Kem Sokha said young people have turned to the CNRP because in the last few years the CPP’s maltreatment of citizens is now widely read and seen on social media platforms such as Facebook.

CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San responded by saying that Kem Sokha made the comment only to confuse citizens and seek their votes in the national elections in 2018.

But political researcher and analyst Meas Ny said: “Should the government continue to fail to ignore strengthening the social justice system by allowing politicians to interfere in it, the popularity of the ruling party will suffer further.”

Three of ‘Adhoc Five’ ill

In a related development, three of five jailed human rights activists known as the “Adhoc Five”—Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Ny Sokha—have become seriously ill in prison due to lack of access to proper medical treatment, the daughter of one of them said Thursday.

The three officials of the domestic rights group along with their colleague Lim Mony and National Election Committee (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya have been held for 12 months at Prey Sar Prison in the capital Phnom Penh amid a wide-ranging probe into an alleged extramarital affair of Kem Sokha.

San Vathanak Vattey, daughter of Yi Soksan, said the health conditions of the trio have deteriorated because doctors from nongovernmental organizations have not been allowed to provide treatment for them inside the prison as they had in the past.

She said her father was trying various drugs at random to help ease a liver ailment.

“It has been three months already that he’s gone without a physician to take care of him,” she said. “It is really difficult for him.”

The domestic human rights group Licadho used to send physicians to provide treatments for detainees at the 11 correction centers across the country.

But Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s head of investigations, said the provision of medical treatment inside prisons is not the same as before because the Ministry of Interior prohibits access to correction centers.

He said the ministry did not state the reason for the move.

Prison department spokesperson Nuth Savana said every prison has its own doctors, but if the three want to be treated by outside physicians, they must seek court approval.

“They can file a request with the prosecutor, and if the prosecutor approves, we will allow them to go,” he said. “Everything depends on the prosecutor.”

Reported by Zakariya Tin, Thai Tha, Hour Hum, and Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Cambodia Annuls Sam Rainsy Travel Ban

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday lifted a travel ban on former opposition chief Sam Rainsy, daring his long-time opponent to return to the country to face a criminal conviction observers have called politically motivated.

On Wednesday, Hun Sen ordered Council of Ministers’ secretary of state Tekreth Samrech to issue a letter notifying the National Police and the Immigration Department of the government’s decision to annul the travel ban, imposed on Oct. 12.

Yim Sovann, spokesperson for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), welcomed the decision, calling it a “positive sign” for the CNRP, but refrained from saying when his party’s former leader might return to Cambodia.

“Don’t think of other issues yet—let’s wait and see how things play out first, because this is a developing situation,” he said, adding that the party’s leadership is discussing how to proceed.

Sam Rainsy, who has remained abroad since late 2015 when a conviction he believed had been overturned by a royal pardon was revived, resigned as CNRP chief in February following the introduction of a law that bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party.

On Tuesday, during a call in show with RFA’s Khmer Service, Sam Rainsy vowed to return to Cambodia to face off against Hun Sen in next year’s general election and called on the prime minister to remove the travel ban, adding that he would “dare to be imprisoned and even face death … so long as our nation can live.”

Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesperson Sok Ey San said Wednesday that the government decided to annul the travel ban after listening to the interview, and questioned whether the former opposition leader dared to return to face his conviction, now that Hun Sen had done as he requested.

“Sam Rainsy spoke last night in an interview with RFA … and everyone heard that he is not afraid [to face the court conviction],” he said.

“So now, he may return by boarding any plane he likes. Please return.”

Sok Ey San said that the CPP has “no plans to negotiate,” for the time being.

Hun Sen has repeatedly pursued defamation cases against Sam Rainsy, who has faced a total of seven lawsuits filed in Cambodian courts.

Game of chicken

Lu Lay Sreng, Cambodia’s former deputy prime minister and a former senior official of the royalist Funcinpec Party, told RFA it is time for Hun Sen to seek reconciliation between the opposition and ruling parties.

He said the ongoing spat is hurting Cambodia after successful June 4 commune elections, when the nation should be healing and making progress, instead of continuing to depend on foreign aid.

“It is time that the Khmers fully learn their lesson—enough is enough,” he said.

“We should learn to exist independently, since we always depend on others by begging for [assistance].”

Local political analyst Meas Ny called the lifting of the travel ban “a new political game of chicken” that the government is using to challenge Sam Rainsy.

He noted that if Sam Rainsy fails to uphold his pledge to return and possibly face jail time, his popularity will suffer.

“I think the move may benefit both sides,” he said, instead of just the CNRP.

“The CPP may silence its critics, since the party has been seen as treating Sam Rainsy badly and unfairly during the election.”

Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Interview: 'I Request That Hun Sen be Brave Enough Not to Obstruct Me'

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy, who has been forced to live in exile since 2015 in the face of questionable defamation charges, spoke with reporter Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service in Washington Friday to discuss the CNRP’s performance in local elections on June 4 and the party’s prospects for national elections in 2018.

RFA: You resigned from your position as CNRP President on February 11. At that time you said your resignation was in order to rescue the CNRP from any attempts to dissolve the party through the use of the amended law on political parties by Hun Sen’s government. Now the election is over, how effective is your resignation and how did  it affect the commune council election results?

Sam Rainsy: My resignation was only made on paper. But my heart and my mind still rest with rescuing the nation 100 percent. I want to commend and thank our compatriots, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, who went to vote en masse for change. In 2017, we have changed most [officials] at the commune/sangkat levels. What is most important is that in 2018, our compatriots will go to vote for change at the national level through electing new lawmakers. Then we will have a new government and a new prime minister to lead new politics so as to serve the genuine interests of the nation and the people and bring about full happiness for Cambodian citizens.

RFA: Had you not resigned, how would the political situation have developed?

Sam Rainsy: It is clear that they created a new law aiming at me, Sam Rainsy, as their courts had unfairly prosecuted me. With such a pretext, they created a new law stipulating that any party whose leaders are convicted by the court shall be subject to dissolution. Had I not resigned, the CNRP would have been dissolved. In the name of one of the founders of the CNRP, like being a parent, we dare to withdraw ourselves so that our children can stay alive and grow up.

RFA: Now your party has not been dissolved and it has just won nearly 500 commune/sangkat chief posts although it has not won a majority. Are you satisfied with this result? Do you think that, had you taken other strategies, it would have increased the votes for your party? Or is this what your party can do to the best of its ability?

Sam Rainsy: I believe that this election was not free or fair. Had it been held in a free and fair environment, the CNRP would have received more votes than what it has now. How can you call it free, if there were always threats of war, arrests and jailing of the innocents? How can it be free with such an environment of fear? How can it be fair if the ruling party employed state means, materials, budget and personnel to serve its own interests? How can it be fair and equitable when I, who stands behind the CNRP and used to be its president, could not participate in this election or during the election campaign? I trust that had I had my freedom and the possibility to participate during the election campaign, the votes that CNRP would have received would be much higher than this. As for the other side, its leader could conduct his election campaign at will. But as for me, had I not resigned, and had I not been accused unfairly, I would have been present with Kem Sokha to conduct the election campaign together across the nation. And the CNRP would have won more than this time. Hence, I regret that this election was not free or fair. I will make all-out efforts to ensure that the upcoming election is freer and fairer.  The CNRP will then achieve a victory greater than in 2017.

RFA: Having said that the election was not free and fair and that the party received greater pressure and oppression than in previous polls, why did your party accept the election results?

Sam Rainsy: We understand that the level of support for the CNRP was higher than ever before. Even though it was not free or fair, our votes keep increasing. Our commune/sangkat chief seats increased in 2017 to nearly 500 seats. I believe that in 2018, we will receive at least eight additional assembly seats than what we have now. Actually it should be more than this, but at least this is the minimum votes that we should gain when the citizens vote for the CNRP. Right now we have 55 seats in the national assembly. If we receive just eight additional seats then the CNRP will have 63 seats in the national assembly which is enough, equivalent to the absolute majority, for the party to form a new government and bring about the change the citizens have wished for. So… for next year, I call on our citizens to come out to vote en masse so that the CNRP increases its seats by an additional eight seats so that we have enough lawmakers at the national assembly to form a new government.

RFA: The possibility that Prime Minister Hun Sen plans to dissolve the CNRP has not yet disappeared, even though you chose to resign earlier this year, especially at a time when support for the CNRP is increasing. What else do you have as a strategy for further rescuing the party? What if there is any case lodged against Kem Sokha, including the Anti-Corruption Unit plans to investigate him over his alleged human trafficking case? Will Kem Sokha dare to resign as president to rescue the party? Do you have other strategies should there be such attempts?

Sam Rainsy: Such attempts show that the other side is in a panic. They know that they are losing. Because the level of citizens’ support for the CNRP is increasing over time. In contrast, the support for the CPP is decreasing. In the past, the gap between the CPP and the CNRP was FAIRLY huge. But from one election to the next, the gap is shrinking. And in 2017, the line of support for both parties almost stayed at the same level. By 2018, the lines will be crossed, meaning that the CPP is dropping and the CNRP is rising. Then the support for the CNRP will be higher than that for the CPP. So they know that they are losing and that with a fair and proper election that allows our citizens to express their will genuinely, the CNRP will win a landslide. That is why they tried to find measures and devise plans that are of bad intention and not in compliance with democratic principles in order to cause trouble for the CNRP. This is not the first time that they used such tricks to cause trouble for the CNRP. Prior to the creation of the CNRP, the Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party were also being subject to harassment and trouble. But we still sustained and our votes kept increasing from one election mandate to the next. Their tricks could not outdo us. We as good people also have our strategies to protect ourselves from ill-intended persons. Just take a look at what we have done to sustain the life of the party. Not only for the sustainability of the party but also for the party to grow and increase votes from one year to the next. I trust that in the future as per in our past we are equipped with ideas and strategies to confront them to ensure that our party is strong and soon next year we can bring about victory. It is true that without Sam Rainsy, the party can still grow and that without Kem Sokha, the party can also grow. As a matter of fact, there is not just a single Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha. There are millions of Sam Rainsys and Kem Sokhas in Cambodia. Those who love the nation, justice and those who yearn for positive change. These people are called Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha. So no having me or Kem Sokha will not cause any problems so long as our conscience stays alive within the hearts of Cambodian people across the nation.

RFA: You had committed to return to Cambodia in time for the national election in 2018 and to stand as prime minister candidate for the CNRP to compete with the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen. But how will you return to Cambodia? By what means?

Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen has to suspend and drop the order that his government had given to airline companies worldwide not to board me on any of their planes to Cambodia. So no airline companies dare to board me due to Hun Sen’s threat that any airlines that fly me to Cambodia, will face a situation in which all passengers on board will not be allowed to leave the plane and the plane has to return to its place of origin. So I cannot return to Cambodia because now I’m living in France. I have to board a plane that flies across several countries and the last country will be either Thailand or Korea. Yet all airliners have received the same order. If they want to have a free and fair election, as a contender and as a prime minister candidate to compete with Hun Sen, I request that Hun Sen be brave enough not to obstruct me from being able to compete with him. This does not mean through Hun Sen’s leniency. I ask Hun Sen to abide by the law and the constitution. No government in the world obstructs one of its citizens from being able to return to their own homeland. This is such a cruel and illegal act. Hun Sen should know that he should not act like this since it is shameful. Only his government dares to obstruct one of its citizens from being able to return to Cambodia.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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Cambodia’s Ruling Party Banking on Lack of Access to Independent Media: Civil Society

A de facto monopoly on Cambodia’s radio waves has allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to retain political control of the country’s northeast, according to civil society groups and residents, who have called on the government to allow independent media broadcasts into remote areas in the region.

Rural residents of Kratie, Stung Treng, Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces are only able to access independent media—including Khmer-language radio broadcasts from foreign entities—via shortwave frequencies, giving government-aligned media groups that use stronger FM frequencies an advantage.

While the Ministry of Information officially delegates power to provincial information departments to decide how media groups can broadcast locally, provincial directors routinely refer to the ministry for permission whenever independent outlets request the right to rebroadcast their programs through local FM radio stations.

The relay requests are inevitably rejected on the grounds that each radio station should “produce its own broadcasting content.”

Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) executive director Pang Nguon Teang told RFA’s Khmer Service that by refusing to grant rebroadcast rights to independent media groups, the government is effectively denying the public access to information and balanced news coverage.

“People [in rural parts of the northeast provinces] rarely receive information from independent news outlets, so their perspective [on Cambodia’s current events] is not comprehensive,” he said.

“The government is also failing to provide them with the option of accessing independent news.”

Pang Nguon Teang’s concerns were echoed by ADHOC’s Stung Treng provincial coordinator Ho Sam Ol, who told RFA that denying the public access to a range of viewpoints is undemocratic, particularly amid Cambodia’s commune ballot held on June 4 and ahead of general elections set for 2018.

“We have seen that residents only receive news from one side, so they only hear about the good aspects [of the government] and tend to make uninformed decisions,” he said.

“In genuinely democratic [countries], citizens should be allowed access [to information from various sources] for their own consideration.”

While official results from last week’s commune elections won’t be announced until June 25, preliminary results showed the CPP won 22 provinces while the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won two major cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as in Kompong Cham province.

Government-aligned broadcasts

Residents from Stung Treng’s Thala Borivath district told RFA they don’t know why they lack access to independent media when they can easily tune in to government-aligned broadcasts through the province’s six FM radio stations.

Sy Nang said she would like to hear relays of independent media broadcasts through local FM radio stations so that she and other members of her community can “understand the realities of society.”

“It is crucial for us to understand what is going on in our society, such as … government activities, since we all are Khmers,” she said.

Another resident of Thala Borivath named Chan Borin said that he used to listen to domestic news broadcasts, but gave up because they only portrayed the government in a positive light.

Ministry of Information spokesperson Ouk Kimseng was not immediately available for comment regarding the government’s policy on independent media broadcasts.

Stung Treng provincial Information Department chief Ouk Theavy told RFA that local radio stations with licenses from the Ministry of Information must comply with terms and conditions as stipulated by the ministry according to the law.

He said his department can neither grant nor deny permission for local radio stations to relay broadcasting from independent media outlets, adding that the onus is on local station owners to comply with Ministry of Information standards.

“All stations must comply with the law … which clearly stipulate guidelines for operation,” he said.

‘Free flow of information’

San Chey, the Cambodia network fellow for the Philippines-based Affiliated Network for Social Accountability–EAP Foundation, told RFA he wants to see citizens from all walks of life have access to comprehensive, accurate and independent news so that they can make informed political decisions.

He said news coverage that lacks balance can lead local communities to make choices that can negatively affect their development.

“This can affect the progress of democracy, such as the implementation of government reform policies and, in particular, decentralization reforms,” he said.

San Chey called on Cambodia’s government to find ways to facilitate public access to comprehensive news coverage that addresses the needs of local communities.

“The free flow of information and ideas is a fundamental resource in democratic countries and is crucial for the genuine respect of human rights,” he said.

In 2013, the Ministry of Information overturned an order directing all FM stations to cease rebroadcasting Khmer-language radio programs by foreign broadcasters in the run-up to the country’s general elections, after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration came under fire from the U.S., as well as foreign and local rights groups.

Khmer programs of at least three foreign broadcasters—U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA), as well as Radio Australia—had been barred from being aired under the directive, which was seen as a major setback to media freedom in the country and aimed at stifling the voice of the opposition.

Reported by Chanthy Men for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Sixteen Montagnards returned to Vietnam from Cambodia After Failed Asylum Appeals

Cambodia repatriated 16 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam on Thursday after they failed to meet requirements for gaining refugee status in Cambodia, Cambodian authorities said.

The 16, who agreed to return to Vietnam afte exhausting their appeals, were accompanied by officials from Cambodia and the U.N High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)  until they were handed over to Vietnamese authorities, a Cambodian immigration spokesman said.

“Cambodia did not deport them. The UNHCR arranged their return as these [Montagnards] were not granted refugee status,” Tan Sovichea, spokesman and director of the Immigration Department’s Refugee Office of the Cambodian Ministry of Interior, told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“When they filed their appeals, perhaps they gave up hope as they didn’t have additional supporting evidence. That is why they voluntarily agreed to return while the UN was making arrangements for them,” he added.

Tan Sovichea added that the UNHCR had been working with Vietnamese authorities to ensure that the Montagnards would be safely returned and protected from persecution for their attempt to flee the country.

Cambodian authorities were scheduled to return to the capital Phnom Penh upon reaching the Cambodia-Vietnam border, , while the UNHCR officials would continue the trip with Montagnards and Vietnamese authorities until they reach the location where the would-be asylum seekers would be settled down.

The UNHCR in Cambodia was not immediately available for comment.

Since 2001, at least three thousand Vietnamese Montagnards have crossed the border into Cambodia via Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces to seek refugee status, including a large wave that came in 2014.

Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar. The group of Montagnards who fled to Phnom Penh comes from the mountainous region of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kon Tum provinces in central Vietnam, which border Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces of Cambodia.

More than 50  Montagnard asylum seekers, many of whom are Christian, fled Cambodia to Thailand in early 2017 amid fears of forced repatriation to Vietnam, where they complain of discrimination and persecution at the hands of local authorities, according to U.S.-based rights group Montagnards Assistance Project. It said some 250 Montagnards had gathered in Thailand as of April.

Reported by Sothearin Yeang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Interview: 'We Didn’t Involve Ourselves in Playing Their Games'

Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha spoke with reporter Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service on Wednesday on the results of elections on June 4 for rural commune and urban sangkat councils and council chiefs. The elections, seen as a bellwether for national elections in 2018, saw the CNRP, a party formed by the merger in 2012 of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, get nearly 12 times the number of commune chief posts than the two component parties had held prior to the vote.

RFA:  What did the party do right during its campaign and on election day?

Kem Sokha: As our compatriots already know, the CNRP has overcome political heat over the past period which raised concerns and fears among our supporters. Not only has it been able to hold its position, but it was also able to move forward another step. What we have done right is, first, we properly set our goals which are based on the will of the people, meaning that our goals are not based on any delirious feeling of any individual or leader. As a leader, we don’t follow our feelings, but act based on the will of the people. The will of the people is that initially they had wanted us to unite together democrats and nationalists. And we did unite in 2012. This was a positive point as a stepping stone for reinvigorating our people’s hope after these hopes had been lost for quite a long period of time. In 1993, our citizens went to vote for change one time already. But they couldn’t sustain their hopes as they had been ruined. It was not until the recent time that after there was a merger between the Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party that we have gathered our forces among democrats. This served as a crucial point when we made the right decision by uniting our forces.

Second, is due to our political maturity. We know how to be patient at some points. We didn’t use our feelings to react to situations, but instead worked strategically. Whatever they did against us, we were patient … and when we didn’t involve ourselves in playing their games, we were able to focus on preparing our structure, candidates and political platform.

Third, we tried to conduct regular meetings with people in their localities. As per reports from various organizations, the CNRP lawmakers have been actively visiting their constituencies more often than [the ruling party]. Likewise, the CNRP activists also carried out more activities than the other side. These are the points that we have been doing right and we will continue to pursue them further.

RFA: What are the things that the CNRP should improve internally for the upcoming 2018 election?

Kem Sokha: We know that politically, we are correct. But as for some technical issues, we have not been thorough. For instance, we have yet to approach each commune or village level with proper statistics. During the campaign, we also did not visit people’s homes as often as the ruling party had done. We also have not taught the people how to mark their ballots properly. Another point, is related to our observers. Although we recruited them in large numbers, our training of them, both spiritually and materially, fell short due to time constraints. These are things we need to improve. Improvement means that for 2018, we still have time. We won’t wait until that day comes to recruit more observers. We have to do it from now. Following the election on June 4, I summoned all our party’s provincial leaders and lawmakers to an urgent meeting. We have already laid out our plan. Our immediate task is to urgently meet with our commune/sangkat chiefs so that they further understand their roles and our political stance and they can lead the nearly 500 communes/sangkat that we won right away. Moreover, we also have to train our elected commune/sangkat councilors so that they know better how to manage, and to lead well. I don’t think this is a difficult task. The most important thing is whether they already have their hearts ready for loving the nation and the people. Since we already have our hearts ready, we can just teach them the technical parts. We will request national and international organizations to join with us in providing training to our elected commune/sangkat councilors and chiefs. Another important issue is our observers. We need to train them to strengthen their spirit so that they will not be bought or be scared of threats, and will be technically ready. We will provide them with further training. We can’t just teach them one time and expect that they’ll understand everything. We have to teach them repeatedly.

RFA: What are the things that your party demands be improved from the outset, including on the government or National Election Commission side?

Kem Sokha: There are a lot of things that we demand be improved. Although no violence occurred in this election, there were other various issues of concern. We noticed that there were a lot of threats prior to the election. The courts or the NEC appeared not to undertake any concrete measures against such threats even though they prompted an outcry and appeals from the international community. Another thing is that on election day, the issue of shutting doors during the ballot counting process, whereby our citizens were not allowed to monitor or observe the process from outside. The NEC said such acts are illegal, yet they occurred. The election law appears to be too strict toward civil society organizations carrying out their activities. In this cycle, civil society organizations were very concerned and worked cautiously. When they were too cautious, it was hard for them to carry out their work effectively. Another point that needs to be improved concerns our people living overseas. We must ensure that our people living and working abroad such as in Thailand, Korea or other countries are provided the opportunity to register to vote. We continue to demand that our overseas workers be able to vote through arrangements such as via our embassies or at set locations.

Lastly, we know that more than one million people who registered to vote failed to go to vote due to various obstacles. These included restrictions for garment workers as they were not given enough time to travel to vote, and were faced with having their wages cut. We need to change all of this. We have to think about the fact that more than 1 million people did not go to vote. If those people were able to vote, the CNRP would have increased its votes and we would be able to gain further victory. We see the preliminary results showed that the CNRP votes are 500,000 less than the CPP. Most of these workers vote for the CNRP. Also, almost 2 million people were not able to register to vote. Had these people been able to register and go to vote, the number of democrats would be much higher. We don’t expect that all of these things can be changed at once. But if we all have the will (to change), this would be not just for the sake of the CNRP, but also for the sake of other parties that lost elections.

RFA: You said that in this election, there were a lot of restrictions on civil society organizations, causing them to be very cautious, and as a result their work was not carried out effectively. Can you give a specific example?

Kem Sokha: I noticed that during past elections, when there were any problems, they would take prompt actions and intervene immediately at voting stations, offices or nearby spots. Such intervention included lodging complaints and other efforts to seek justice. But now they appear to be very quiet and didn’t dare to do much. Also, in issuing their statements, they appear to be very cautious. Another example of unfairness is that while some civil society organizations faced are concerns and fears and faced restrictions, other groups that considered themselves civil society … could go visit any polling stations at will. But independent groups, if they dared to do so, they would face litigation.

RFA: What will the new blood in the CNRP do to distinguish itself from the CPP? What will your party’s commune chiefs do to make themselves better than the old commune chiefs? What are their strong points, since they are inexperienced?

Kem Sokha: For the CNRP, we know clearly, and we already have our plan. Right after the conclusion of the June 4’s election, on June 5 I called for a meeting among all CNRP provincial presidents and lawmakers so that we can devise plans to help our elected commune chiefs and councilors. We discussed what we have to do to implement our political platform set forth during the campaign, so that they will honor the party’s promises. There are a lot of things that we can do different from the ruling party. For instance, our commune chiefs will issue papers without any political discrimination; we won’t let them charge service fees over what is determined by law and they must make sure that they act on a timely manner. We are not merely talking. We have our lawmakers to help guide them from behind the scenes by giving advice, and providing further training and arrangements for them to practice. Also, we have our monitoring group. If they notice our commune chiefs do not work properly, we will dare to change or have them removed. Another thing, we will educate our commune chiefs and councilors to work properly and cooperate with other parties without any political discrimination. We want them to cooperate and treat one another as the same Cambodians. Even if we win, we have to cooperate so as to ensure the effectiveness of our work for the sake of the citizens. They can only discuss the party’s affairs during their time off from commune work, not during their working time when they are serving the citizens in their localities.

RFA: Will the CNRP’s commune chiefs charge commission fees, a major complaint of citizens?

Kem Sokha: As I already said, absolutely we won’t allow this to happen. Our commune chiefs and candidates have already made commitments to never letting that happen. If such issue occurs, they agreed to be removed from their posts. We won’t just let them tell us or let us know about the irregularities. We will form a senior commission at each commune/sangkat, led by respected people, to monitor and evaluate, and give scores to our commune chiefs’ performance. If their score is low or dropping from year to year, we won’t let them continue. We have to change them. I also want to reiterate that we cannot just change everything in one day. We have a plan to educate, train, improve, and strengthen the capacity of our commune chiefs and councilors.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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