“I have come home to rescue the country,” Rainsy told the crowd gathered at the Phnom Penh airport, after kneeling to kiss the ground. “I am happy to be here!” Rainsy told the crowd speaking through a microphone as the supporters chanted, “We want change!” The French-educated leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party has been in exile since 2009 to avoid serving 11 years in prison on charges many consider politically motivated. Rainsy, 64, received a royal pardon last week at the request of Hun Sen, his bitter rival whose ruling party is almost certain to maintain its ironclad grip on power in the July 28 general election.
Hun Sen has held power for 28 years, and his party holds 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly. The prime minister recently said that he intends to wield power until he is 74 – cutting back from an earlier vow to stay in control until he’s 90.
Rainsy is a charismatic and fiery speaker – qualities that have landed him in trouble before.
He is expected to draw large crowds as he embarks on a whirlwind campaign tour that his party says will take him to over a dozen provinces in a week. He is likely to push hard on issues of corruption and land grabbing, with tens or hundreds of thousands of Cambodians displaced from their homes and farms under what are often shady circumstances.