Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is seeking to reassure his supporters that though he is in exile abroad, he will work to bring change to Cambodia.
The head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party is facing a two-year jail term for criminal defamation, in a suit brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, should he return to Cambodia. He is also fighting a defamation case brought by National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
But in a video post on Facebook, where he often communicates with his supporters, he said over the weekend he is continuing to lead the party, to seek change and to find ways to improve and protect the lives of the poor.
Cambodia is ramping up for local elections in 2017 and national elections the year after. Sam Rainsy said he wants Cambodia to lead a government “capable of protecting the national treasury, forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, mines, natural resources and other cultural heritage.”
On Sunday, Sam Rainsy also took part in a video conference, addressing supporters in Kampong Cham province, urging unity and support for the party. “We are like-minded people,” he said. “We’re not afraid of the threats. We won’t sell out and we can’t be separated.”
Critics, meanwhile, say Sam Rainsy is changing his rhetoric, now that he is again the rival of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said Sam Rainsy’s change in attitude toward the ruling party has caused some confusion, and thereby erodes his support.
“When people do not trust him is when he talks impulsively,” Ou Virak said. “What worries me are his words. When he gets along with Hun Sen, he talks differently. Then we’re getting along with China, he talks in a different way. When he is in the US, he gets along with the US, he talks in another way.”
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the CPP, said the party remains unconcerned about Sam Rainsy and his messages. Some Rescue Party members have already defected to the CPP, he said. “I hear they are coming to join us one after another.”