Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has left for the United States to attend his daughter’s wedding, triggering criticism at home that he was leaving the country in the midst of a political crisis following disputed national elections.
Sam Rainsy announced at a mass rally at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Tuesday that he would be away for a few days as a dispute continued between his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) over who won the July 28 elections.
“In order to avoid misinterpretation, I would like to say goodbye just for a few days as I am going to my daughter’s wedding in the United States,” Sam Rainsy, the CNRP head, told the 10,000-strong crowd.
"As a father, I have left her alone while I’m involved in politics in Cambodia. In order to avoid remorse, I would like to seek your permission to be away for a few days and I will return after the wedding," he said.
"Will you give me permission,” he asked, drawing cheers from the crowd as if to signal that they agreed to his request.
But after Sam Rainy departed Phnom Penh, some groups criticized him for leaving Cambodia while the country is in a deadlock following elections.
They said that the trip was not timely especially after he had threatened to lead a mass demonstration in the capital if the ruling CPP and the country’s main election body, the National Election Committee (NEC), continue to block an independent investigation into widespread irregularities in the elections.
The CNRP has insisted that any joint investigation committee must comprise officials from the party as well as the CPP, local civil society groups, and national and international observers, with the United Nations acting as an arbitrator.
The CNRP had walked out on weekend talks with the CPP and the NEC after its demands to include the United Nations in the proposed investigation panel were rejected.
Political analyst Sok Touch said Sam Rainsy should not have have left the country at this time.
He said Sam Rainsy should place national interests above personal interests.
“He should wait until political stability is secured before [making] foreign visits,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yem Panharith said Sam Rainsy’s U.S. trip had been pre-planned and would not disrupt the party’s activities.
He said the CNRP had many leaders who were capable of handling the situation when Sam Rainsy is away, pointing out that no one is indispensable.
“Sam Rainsy’s absence will not affect the party’s work and Sam Rainsy will return at the end of this week,” Yem Panharith said.
Social analyst Kem Ley said CNRP is popular not because of Sam Rainsy or his deputy Kem Sokha but because of the party’s struggle.
He added that any mass demonstrations would have to wait until the announcement of the official election results expected by early September.
The CPP claims its review of election results showed that it had secured 68 seats and the CNRP won 55 seats, while the CNRP maintains that based on its own calculations, it won 63 seats and the CPP took 60.
The CNRP also says that ballot irregularities resulted in more than 1 million names removed from voter lists, with a similar number of "phantom" voters added to them, along with what it called the duplication of about 200,000 names.
King seeks calm
The NEC has not said when it will announce the official results, but Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni said Wednesday they will be announced before September 8.
The king called in a public statement for calm and sought a peaceful resolution to the election crisis.
“The election result will be announced by the NEC between August 14 and September 8, and for the sake of national interests and peace and national stability, I appeal to the two parties that were chosen to be represented at the National Assembly to continue talking to find a peaceful resolution to their remaining disputes," he said.
"I would also appeal to the people to remain calm and maintain national dignity and continue with their daily lives and to keep national unity and solidarity and avoid any major obstacles,” he said in his message.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened that he will go ahead and set up a new government despite the disputed elections while warning of protests by the ruling party to counter any mass opposition demonstrations aimed at highlighting poll irregularities.
On the eve of the polls, King Sihamoni, following a request by Hun Sen, granted a pardon to Sam Rainsy for criminal convictions widely seen as politically motivated, enabling the opposition leader to return from four years of self-imposed exile in France.
But Sam Rainsy was not allowed by the NEC to contest the elections, saying it was too late for him to be reinstated as a voter after he was delisted from the electoral rolls due to his convictions.
Reported by Tep Soravy and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.