CNRP Scales Back Campaign to Prepare for Rainsy’s Return

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has put a temporary hold on all major campaigning across Phnom Penh as it prepares for a mass rally to greet party president Sam Rainsy on Friday when he returns to the country after spending almost four years abroad in self-imposed exile.

With less than two weeks to go until the July 28 national election, the opposition party is hoping to flood the city with at least 40,000 supporters when Mr. Rainsy arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport and then moves on to Freedom Park where he will greet party supporters.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party stopped its rallies and motorcades around the city Monday and would start them up again only on Thursday in order to conserve its resources and make preparations.

“We have to save our energy and our resources to spend for the prep­aration to welcome Mr. Sam Rainsy on the 19th,” he said. “That’s why we suspend only the big parades, but we still campaign [at the] commune and district level.”

He said the party was also spending the time to prepare for Mr. Rainsy’s tour of the provinces, where he plans to spend all but one of the days between his comeback and election day.

He said Mr. Rainsy would visit 15 provinces in that time, focusing on those surrounding Phnom Penh and others in the west and center of the country, including Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kompong Thom and Siem Reap.

“There are 15 provinces…so each day he has to visit two provinces,” Mr. Sovann said.

Dates and Mr. Rainsy’s exact route have yet to be worked out.

CNRP candidate Mu Sochua, who is running for re-election in Battambang, said she was heading to Phnom Penh for a party meeting on Wednesday to start finalizing their campaign plans for Mr. Rainsy.

With Mr. Rainsy most popular in urban centers, she said a focus on the provinces was deliberate, both to challenge the ruling CPP among its base of rural voters and increase Mr. Rainsy’s exposure in areas where the opposition has the least amount of media access.

“People in the countryside want to see him most because they have less access to the media,” she said.

Mr. Rainsy has been living in France for nearly four years avoiding an 11-year prison sentence for convictions widely considered to be politically motivated. At the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni granted him a pardon on Friday, paving the way for his return.

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