Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has announced he will return to Phnom Penh this week, buoying his party just days before the country’s general election. Will his pardon bring about change? The news on July 12th that Sam Rainsy (title photo) had received a royal pardon for an 11-year sentence handed down in 2010 came as a relief to supporters of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the only credible challenger to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). It was welcomed too by donors and by the United Nations’ human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, whose 2012 report emphasized “the importance of a level playing field for all political parties to compete on an equal footing”, and who had called for a deal that would allow Rainsy to return and take part. “Today I applaud the [government] for having taken this important step towards reconciliation, which is in the interests of stronger and deeper democratization of Cambodia,” Subedi said, adding that he hoped the government would act “to allow Sam Rainsy to play a full part in the national politics of Cambodia”.
On July 19th, tens of thousands of supporters of the CNRP – which is an amalgam of the two leading opposition parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party – are expected to greet Rainsy upon his return. He will spend the next week touring the country drumming up support for the CNRP ahead of the July 28th ballot.
Speaking from his home in Paris, Rainsy welcomed his pardon, saying it was in part a consequence of lobbying by foreign ministers “representing many countries that were the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement on Cambodia” – the deal that brought together the warring factions of the long-running civil war and that eventually culminated in peace.
“I think all of them have contributed to this happy end,” Rainsy told DW by phone, adding that he was happy with the pardon “not only for myself, but mainly for Cambodia. This is a sign, an indication that we are moving in the right direction: the direction of national reconciliation, of national unity without which Cambodia cannot achieve democracy and cannot achieve true development,” he added.