Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told more than a hundred CNRP officials on Friday that the party’s proposal to retake land that has been illegally seized by the country’s rich must not be seen as an attempt to strip wealth from those who have earned it legitimately.
Delivering the opening speech at a conference in Phnom Penh to discuss strategies to win the commune elections in 2017 and the national election in 2018, Mr. Rainsy said accusations by the ruling CPP that the CNRP intended to “kill” the country’s elites were unfounded.
“Regarding the accusation about land seizures, it has been called a class war because the allegation is that the CNRP hates the rich so it will get rid of the rich by taking their properties to give to the poor or kill the rich when the CNRP comes to power,” he said.
“We don’t intend to kill the rich as they have claimed. It is totally wrong,” Mr. Rainsy said.
The opposition leader said that the CNRP respected entrepreneurs who had accrued their wealth through legal means, noting his own admiration for Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world.
“So here is a message to rich and successful people that we respect,” he said. “We respect the rich and we give them value because we need to learn from them how to become rich.”
Mr. Rainsy also defended his party against warnings from CPP leaders—including Prime Minister Hun Sen—that a CNRP government would start a war with Vietnam due to its history of framing Cambodia’s eastern neighbor as an enemy.
The CNRP president said that the party would instead file complaints with the International Court of Justice regarding its claims that Vietnam has encroached on Cambodian land, noting that the CPP government used the same strategy in its successful campaign to fend off Thai claims to Preah Vihear temple.
“We need to offer an alternate interpretation that there will be no war with neighboring countries because we just demand the respect of international laws and conventions and the court’s order when we file a complaint with the court,” Mr. Rainsy said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, however, said that Mr. Rainsy’s latest defense against claims that the CNRP would cause instability in Cambodia and stoke tension with its neighbors was insincere.
“Previously, he has talked about black-hearted bosses, black-hearted oknhas and black-hearted employers, so he would seize land and property to give to the poor if he wins an election,” Mr. Eysan said.
“It’s his political campaign and everyone remembers,” he added. “In brief, the CNRP—or its leaders —are very prejudiced with class discrimination, and secondly it is really racist against all neighboring countries and treats them as the enemy.”
During a speech to Cham Muslim supporters in Kompong Chhnang province last month, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha denied that there was any racism among Cambodians.
“Anybody who says Khmer have racial discrimination are wrong,” Mr. Sokha said at the time.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Rainsy said he did not agree that there was no racism among Cambodians, but that claims that the CNRP was racist simply because its leaders frequently speak about the threat posed by Vietnam were misguided.
“I think there is racism everywhere. It cannot be eliminated,” he said, noting that Cambodia’s history of losing land to Thailand and Vietnam gave Cambodians good reason to be concerned about the threat posed by neighboring countries.
“We were caught between the Siem and the Yuon. They nearly killed us,” Mr. Rainsy said, using the historical names for the Thai and Vietnamese people, respectively.
“So there are bitter memories, but it is not racism. It is that you don’t feel secure, you don’t feel confident—you feel hurt. Is this racism? I don’t think so. It is more complicated than that.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)