Cambodia Opposition Leader Returns

To those of us who have kept our eyes on Cambodia since the baleful days of the 1974-79 civil war and genocide, every small sign of growing out of its macabre past is a sign of hope. Even Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long control of the country through dynamic political manipulation and gleeful self acquisition has been better than what preceded it.  Cambodian’s, when asked about his government, give a wry shrug of the shoulders: yes, he’s not so good, but then again, he’s not killing us. [Though Amnesty International in 1997 protested the summary executions of his opponents.]

Cambodia RainsySo, the return of a major opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, from four years of French exile after fleeing a conviction of racial incitement (anti-Vietnamese), is big news indeed — and not just to onlookers.  Cambodians have been lining up in droves to see and hear the rousing words of a man who has been involved in opposition politics since 1992.

Local NGO Licadho (Cambodian League for the Promotion of Defense of Human Rights) estimated about 100,000 people turned out and had shut down the main road to the airport as Rainsy and his entourage boarded a convoy of black four-wheel-drives and began the arduous task of inching their way into the city.

His return marked the end of a near four-year exile, self-imposed after the courts sentenced him to an 11-year jail term in absentia for crimes that included the uprooting of markers defining the Vietnamese border which he said were illegally placed on Cambodian soil. He maintains the charges were politically motivated.

Rainsy was clearly overwhelmed by the reception, telling The Diplomat it was difficult for him to speak amid the deafening cheers and chants of the crowd while being mobbed by well-wishers.

Cambodians of all ages and walks of life braved the heat and paraded through the streets in what was by far the biggest day of campaigning for the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The Diplomat

There is little doubt that Sun Hen will retain control in the imminent elections.  Among many other things, his party controls almost all public media, rescinding a ban on foreign press coverage of the elections only after vigorous protests.

Even so, for the young, seeing  more normalized campaigning, the discussion of opposing points of view, behaving more like societies they have seen around the world, will have a healing and strengthening effect.  Our two young guides, of several months ago, educated and enthusiastic, though restrained, will surely find hope in what Rainsy is stirring, almost no matter the immediate outcome.



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