Sam Rainsy's return to P Penh too late to sway votes

national July 17, 2013 00:00

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee


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The royal pardon for Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy might help improve the atmosphere in the country ahead of the coming general election, as Prime Minister Hun Sen tries to show he is acting "fairly" in the game, but it is unlikely to change th

Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is expected to land in Phnom Penh on Friday, only nine days ahead of polling day on July 28.

Legally, the opposition leader might not be able to run in the contest to be a Member of Parliament as it’s too late for him to register in the candidate list. But his appearance a week or so before the election would help boost support for his party. Members of the CNRP are already happy and excited since hearing the news of a royal pardon last week.

A lot of young voters gathered with cheers to listen to Sam Rainsy’s first speech via Skype last Friday night in Kandal province. The younger generation is the group tipped by many political observers as the major voters for Sam Rainsy’s party. Cambodia’s National Election Commission revealed that some 3.5 million out of 9.5 million registered voters are from the younger generation, aged between 18 and 30. Some 1.5 million will be able to exercise their right to vote for the first time this year.

It is said Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) are afraid of young voters as they were born after the Khmer Rouge regime and have no painful memories of that cruel regime. To be more precise, they have no gratitude for what Hun Sen and the CPP’s leadership did in the past to "rescue" their parents from the genocide and prevent a return of the Khmer Rouge to power. Khmer Rouge ghosts do not haunt the young Cambodians. They are looking for a better education, jobs and a better life in modern Cambodia. Most could not imagine that the horrible time of their parents could come again.

Sam Rainsy and his party offered "change" and believed it would be attractive enough among young voters and a well-educated middle class in urban areas.

However, that is not the real challenge for the strongman Hun Sen. Sam Rainsy had very limited experience in the administration when he was a finance minister in the Funcinpec-led government in 1994. The opposition leader has little time to campaign for this election. He went into exile in 2009.

What Hun Sen and the CPP have done for the country over recent decades since assuming full control is not totally bad. The economy has grown steadily in recent years. Phnom Penh these days has changed a lot. It looks better and more beautiful than it was a decade ago. The royal pardon for Sam Rainsy indeed makes Hun Sen looks better than before, notably helping reduce international pressure on him.

In the 2008 election, Sam Rainsy’s party took 26 seats and around 21 per cent of the popular vote. Hun Sen and his CPP swallowed 90 out of 123 seats in the Lower House. This time the opposition might get slightly more, but the majority would be with Hun Sen.

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