Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) sat down with reporter Chun Chanboth of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service at RFA’s headquarters in Washington to discuss the country’s upcoming general elections in 2018, the impact of social media – particularly Facebook – on Cambodia’s body politic and the nature of dictatorship and the individual. Rainsy has delayed his return to Cambodia, following his removal from parliament on Nov. 16 by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) because of a warrant issued for his arrest in a seven-year-old defamation case. Cambodia is ramping up for local elections in 2017 and national elections the year after.
RFA: You and Prime Minister Hun Sun seem to have different styles and are in a battle to win the hearts and minds of people who use Facebook. At the same time, Prime Minister Hun Sen also says he’s overtaken you as “Facebook Prime Minister.” How do you feel about that?
Sam Rainsy: First, what’s important is that it’s not the style, the body, the look, the shape or the gestures or photos posted on Facebook. The important thing is the ideas. The ideas on how to manage the country, protect the country and offer jobs to youth. Loving the nation’s youth is not just about taking pictures. If [we] love the young people, [we] have to find ways to create jobs for them and to raise the pay of workers and empower the livelihoods of the people. The real work for the prime minister is not just taking photos and posting them on Facebook. It is supposed to solve real issues for the people.
RFA: So, you don’t care about losing the position of Facebook Prime Minister?
Sam Rainsy: I am actually happy. The more people come to check Facebook, the better because they will have the ability to compare. They can learn from the information. They can have other ideas. The more ideas, the more information, the better for democracy.
RFA: What will you do if the CNRP loses the 2018 general elections?
Sam Rainsy: I believe that the circumstances are very good. They are favorable for the Cambodian people who want to decide their destiny by themselves – not the outsiders, foreigners or any group who uses authoritarian power to decide for the people.
RFA: You once accused Tep Nitha, the head of the National Elections Committee (NEC), of being a thief who stole your votes. But he is still secretary general of the NEC. What do you base your allegations on, and what would you do to prevent him from stealing votes again?
Sam Rainsy: My belief is about what’s important. It is not about the individual. It is the institution that is important. It is the way the institutions work, the methods, the procedures and their respect for the law. If we make the proper laws, and the institutions are well managed, and we make sure that all individuals respect the law, then our work will go smoothly.
RFA: If you believe that, then it means you believe that if the new NEC has appropriate procedures, then no matter who is leading the body, it won’t be able to do the same things as before?
Sam Rainsy: Yes, because democratic principles must be respected. Now, as we have seen, the members of the NEC consist of four people from the CPP and four from the CNRP and one who is independent from civil society. It must be according to the majority. If [you] have good practices, then they will be supported by the majority. Then if there is any party who tries to persuade others among them to do something wrong, there won’t be anyone following along.