Burma NLD Conference Inspires Cambodia Opposition Leader

By Eric Randolph & Patrick Boehler 11 March 2013

The exiled leader of the Cambodian opposition says that Burma provides an example for his country’s political reform process, after attending the National League of Democracy’s first party congress in Rangoon this weekend.

Sam Rainsy, leader-in-exile of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, met with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his three-day visit to Burma.

“We look up to Burma as a model on how to move forward to democracy,” he said.

He described the conference, which he attended following a personal invitation by Suu Kyi, as impressive and moving.

“This is really an example in determination, maturity and patience,” he said. “People have been fighting for 25 years before being able to hold to this convention.”

Commenting on reports of infighting within the NLD, he said that this is a natural development as opposition parties move towards power.

“Our party is having the same problems,” he added.

Rainsy is currently in exile after being convicted in 2010 on charges, which he says are politically motivated to prevent him from standing in elections. His party is preparing for the country’s National Assembly elections in July, which are likely see Prime Minister Hun Sen’s three-decade long rule over the country extended for a further five years.

“Cambodia is becoming not just a one-party system, but a one-man system,” he said. “In Burma, we can see changes are taking place, but in Cambodia it’s a one-man system and that man is a puppet of Vietnam.”

At the same time, Ramsy tried to dispel concerns that his own party is overly focussed on him, a problem which is familiar to Burma’s NLD, which is often viewed by outsiders as being a one-woman show.

“I have been away for more than three years, but my party keeps growing,” he said. “This is the test for the strength of an organisation. It doesn’t depend on one person, I am just the symbol.”

He said Asian politics requires charismatic leaders like Suu Kyi and himself.

“In Tunisia and Egypt, the revolutions led nowhere because there is no charismatic leader,” he said.

It is yet unclear whether the Cambodian government would allow him to return to the country for the elections, despite pressure from the international community and donors.

If he wasn’t allowed to return, he said that his party would not boycott the elections, but “we will call on the international community not to recognize any government that will come out of the

“We are a very poor and small country, we cannot survive without international aid,” he said. “One-third of our budget depends on international assistance; one-third comes from loans. There would be
no stability, no development. It would be very volatile and dangerous.”

He added, however, that he remained confident in the future of political reform in both countries.

“This is a natural tide and no one can stop it,” he said.

He said looked forward to being able to invite Suu Kyi to Cambodia, when his self-imposed exile ends.