Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sam Rainsy interview reveals more than intended by Allen Myers

Sam Rainsy interview reveals more than intended

It seems that Sam Rainsy never tires of running for office. Since his CNRP lost the national election in July, he has been busily campaigning for the next election, which he wants to be held early; perhaps he fears running out of energy if he has to campaign for five years continuously.
When there isn’t a current Cambodian election to relate to, Rainsy happily carries his electoral campaigns into foreign countries. He has found it much easier to win votes in the European Parliament or the US Congress or similar bodies than it is in Cambodia. In Cambodia the voters get to hear both sides before they decide how to vote. Rainsy has sought to simplify things for foreign legislators by ensuring that they hear only his side.
In his latest foray into winning support somewhere else, Rainsy gave a lengthy interview to the Bangkok Nation newspaper, which was printed on 10 and 11 March. In it, among other things, he claims that “the whole world condemned the election”. (I wouldn’t want to accuse Rainsy of exaggerating, but did anyone else notice “the whole world” doing that?) He continued, “… we have recently got resolutions from the European Parliament, the Australian Senate, and the US Congress recently passed a bill calling for an investigation as independent observers have exposed the irregularities, and have shown that the last election was not free and fair.” Later in the interview, he added “… it isn’t only the opposition but all the independent observers, national and international, that say the last election was the worst election we have had.”

But the European Parliament, the Australian Senate and the US Congress were notobservers of the election. There were fewer international observers in 2013 than in some previous elections, at least in part because Sam Rainsy actively discouraged former observers from doing so again. In a statement on 25 February 2013, he called on international and local NGOs and “friendly countries” not to send observers for the National Assembly elections. So the resolutions Rainsy refers to were not a response to observations by “independent observers”; they were a response to what the CNRP told the legislators the “independent observers” had said.

However, there were some independent observers of the election, despite Rainsy’s efforts. The International Conference of Asian Political Parties and the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International sent a delegation headed by the former Speaker of the Philippines House of Representatives and the former Vice-President of Indonesia. They summed up their observations:
The ICAPP-CAPDI considers the elections in Cambodia as a triumph of popular will and a victory of the Cambodian people in their quest to build a better future based on the supremacy and sanctity of the ballot. That the elections were free, fair and transparent, and, above all, peaceful, non-violent and smooth, bears testimony to the fact that Cambodian democracy has not only matured, but come of age politically. We extend our heartiest congratulations to the people, political parties, leaders, media, civil society and the NEC of Cambodia for the successful and orderly conduct of the general election.” (Does this mean that ICAPP and CAPDI are not part of the world?)

Seats won – where?

Further taking advantage of the ignorance of his Thai readers, Rainsy claimed that, in fact, the CNRP had really won 63 seats, to the CPP’s 60. This is an old story, but one that is worth recalling for what it tells us about the very tenuous connection between Sam Rainsy and reality.

Shortly after the election, the Huffington Post reported (31 July): “Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition, said that that based on reports from party workers and election observers, his party had won at least 63 of the assembly’s 123 seats. Sam Rainsy made a similar claim late Tuesday [30 July] to a small group of reporters.”

This was not a claim about how many seats the CNRP would have won if “irregularities” hadn’t occurred. This was a claim that the actual votes cast gave the CNRP a majority of 63 seats. The claim was repeated by another CNRP official, Son Chhay, in an article in the 1 August Phnom Penh Post. Son Chhay told the Post that the CNRP’s eight extra seats came from seven provinces: Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kratie, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

The article added that “finer details are not yet ready for the public, Chhay said.
“‛We will organise a press conference to announce all the details. The plan is to bring all that information to Phnom Penh to recount and recheck first.’
“Chhay added that the CNRP had ‛two weeks to do it, but for me, two weeks is too long’.”
Dear Son Chhay: If two weeks is too long, what is seven and a half months?
The CNRP has never “announced all the details” because the details don’t support its claims. To show that it had won more seats than the National Election Committee declared, the CNRP would have to show vote totals for the relevant provinces that were different from the NEC totals. These provincial totals would then have to be justified by going back to the commune totals and, finally, to the individual polling stations. And at every stage of the counting process, the CNRP’s own observers had signed all the NEC documents indicating that the initial count and the combining of totals had been done accurately and correctly.

Did Sam Rainsy and other CNRP officials on election night just make up the figure of 63 seats? Or were they genuinely mistaken, perhaps misled by garbled or incomplete reports from their provincial party representatives? I don’t think it really matters. By now, they certainly know that their figure was wrong, and yet Sam Rainsy is still repeating it.


The same disregard for reality is evident when Sam Rainsy turns to one of his favourite activities, namely scapegoating Vietnamese, and especially Cambodians of Vietnamese ancestry. He said to the Nationreporter:

They [Vietnamese] have colonised Cambodia. Look at the economy, it is under control of a Vietnamese company: telecommunications, telephone … Airline is a Vietnamese company. Even Angkor Wat is controlled and managed by a Vietnamese company or someone very close to Vietnam.”

Rainsy can’t even keep his prejudices straight. The Royal Group, which is the country’s biggest telecommunications and telephone operator, is not a Vietnamese company. It was founded and is still headed by Kith Meng, a Cambodian of Chinese ancestry who fled during the Khmer Rouge period and eventually became an Australian citizen before returning to Cambodia. As for Sok Kong, the ethnically Vietnamese Cambodian who founded Sokimex, he was born in Prey Veng. He fled the Khmer Rouge in 1975 but returned in 1979 to participate in restoring normal life – at a time when some Khmer super-patriots decided to wait until UNTAC could promise them safety and reasonable comfort. What Rainsy’s words here clearly indicate is that it doesn’t matter how long a family have lived in Cambodia; if they have any Vietnamese ancestry, he intends to treat them as “foreigners” and “colonisers”.

But, the Nation reporter objected, doesn’t Cambodia have investors from other countries too? “Very little”, replied Rainsy. “If you look at the breakdown, the investment, especially the most destructive investment, is controlled by Vietnamese companies.”

That’s not true, as anyone in the CNRP could discover if they were interested in facts rather than scapegoating. For example, The World Investment Report 2013, published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, on page 222 contains the information in the table below. This compares the net total from the sale of Cambodian businesses, and the net total of business purchases in any country by Vietnamese companies for the same years. As is obvious, even if we make the highly unlikely assumption that Vietnamese investors buy businesses only in Cambodia, and in no other country, Vietnamese investments would account for only $95 million of the $486 million of sales of Cambodian businesses over the seven years.

Mergers & acquisitions: Cambodian sales and Vietnamese purchases ($ million)

Cambodian sales
Vietnamese purchases

The table deals only with “mergers and acquisitions” – that is, the transfer of ownership of an existing business. More important economically are “greenfields” sites – investment in creating new businesses. Various sources on foreign direct investment, which combines greenfields investments and mergers & acquisitions, show that Vietnam is not even the leading investor in Cambodia, let alone so dominant as to classify other investors as “little” by comparison.

In accumulated capital investment in Cambodia by foreign countries, Vietnam ranks fifth ( In FDI entering in 2009, Vietnam was sixth, behind China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand (

Moreover, Cambodia is hardly a dominant concern for Vietnamese investors. Accumulated Vietnamese investment in Cambodia is only about 8% of total Vietnamese FDI (calculated from the tables in

Tied to Thailand?

But if Sam Rainsy has nothing but criticism for Vietnamese, he is much more accommodating to another neighbour, Thailand.

Would you consider joint development with Thailand over Preah Vihear? Hun Sen has totally rejected that concept, but Thais and the Thai government are suggesting it could help the two countries reconcile”, asked the Thai reporter. Rainsy replied:

I think that among the principles we mentioned earlier, national sovereignty and territorial integrity, for any country, must be recognised and respected first and from that we can find different formulas whereby to work together for mutual benefit.”
The reporter pushed a little, to get it clear: “So, you are ready to consider that?”
Yes”, Rainsy replied, “but based on the principle mentioned. There is not only the case of Preah Vihear, but other potential issues like overlapping economic zones, where there are offshore oil and gas deposits. So there are many possible formulas to work together for common prosperity.”

Will somebody in the CNRP please give Sam Rainsy a copy of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Preah Vihear? Preah Vihear is not at all like overlapping claims to offshore oil and gas, which have not been adjudicated and are appropriate to negotiate. The ICJ ruling means that Thailand has no more reason to claim “joint development” of Preah Vihear than it does “joint development” of Angkor Wat. Several times in the interviews, Rainsy says that his central goal is “the rule of law”, but he proposes to throw away a rule of international law that benefits Cambodia in order to ingratiate himself with readers of the Nation.

But any liberal-minded Nation reader must have cringed with embarrassment to read Sam Rainsy laying on the flattery: “… Thailand is much more mature [than Cambodia] in terms of political evolution. You have an independent judiciary, this is crucial … in Thailand, at least the judiciary is independent and can render decisions that can move the situation forward in a fair way … in Thailand you have an independent electoral commission, nobody contests the result of elections.”

Again, not true. Some people in Thailand frequently contest and overturn the results of elections. Since the end of World War II the Thai military has carried out something like 11 successful coups and six unsuccessful ones, not counting several instances where the military force the government to resign merely by threatening a coup. Does Sam Rainsy really regard frequent coups as evidence of “political maturity”?

As for judicial independence, try telling it to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was being pursued within days of a complaint being filed with the National Anti-Corruption Court – the same court that after years has not dealt with much more serious charges against members of the previous government. And in 2006, the “independent electoral commission” was sacked and replaced by the new military junta. A few months later, an order from the military junta to frame the pro-Shinawatra party for lèse majesté was leaked, which led to complaints being filed. The “independent electoral commission” dismissed them on the grounds that the junta had granted itself immunity.

What is behind Rainsy’s nonsense? A rather unsubtle clue was offered towards the end of the interview, when he said, “I think there are certain people or a country that want to destabilise Thailand for their own long-term objectives; this is very sad and very dangerous. I hope that all Thais, regardless of political affiliation, will come together to strengthen national unity. Don’t let anybody destabilise, divide you.”

Are you suggesting that a foreign country is trying to destabilise Thailand?”, asked the reporter. Rainsy replied: “In Cambodia also, they are trying to destabilise Cambodia.”

The current disputes in Thailand are a product of Vietnamese “destabilisation”! This sets new standards of political paranoia. And it shows us the likely foreign policy of a Sam Rainsy-led government: cosy up with the Thai military and the Yellow Shirts and give them a new opportunity to move in on Preah Vihear, all in the hope of enlisting Thailand in Rainsy’s anti-Vietnamese crusade. War, anyone?

By Allen Myers