Pouring rain, an absent leader and accusations by Prime Minister Hun Sen that their party was riddled with spies could not dampen the spirits of thousands of Sam Rainsy Party supporters celebrating the party’s 10th anniversary on Tuesday.
Packed into tents at the party headquarters, the crowd cheered loudly for Sam Rainsy’s long distance telephone address from France, and punctuated statements by party officials with noisy applause and chants for “democracy,” “unity” and “Sam Rainsy.”
“I will go back in the near future to lead you to victory…. We will save our country,” Sam Rainsy told his supporters from Paris.
He compared his 10-month exile to that of retired King Norodom Sihanouk during the Vietnamese occupation, and announced that, when he returned victorious, he would restore the party to its original name.
“When Cambodia has democracy and the judiciary is fair, we will use the name Khmer Nation Party, which means the party for the Khmer all over the country,” Sam Rainsy said.
Party Cabinet Member Ly Srey Vyna said that around 5,000 supporters attended the congress, along with the Cuban and US ambassadors.
Opposition officials spoke of success in the 2008 national elections and said they gave little credence to Hun Sen’s announcement on Tuesday morning that their party was rife with CPP spies.
Speaking to graduates at the National Institute of Education, Hun Sen sent a warning to both the opposition and his alleged spies.
“Today, they celebrate the anniversary. Let me send a message: A lot of my men [are] there—you cannot get rid of my men until you get rid of all men there,” the prime minister said.
He added that the spies inside the opposition party had cursed him to gain the party’s confidence.
“Those who cursed me most are not surely their men. They cursed me to gain trust,” he said, before warning the spies that he would reveal their identities if they continued to defame him, saying he had documents proving that they worked for the government.
“You took money from me to spy for me. How dare you curse me strongly. Be careful or I would issue the document,” he warned.
Opposition party Acting President Kong Korm accused Hun Sen of posturing because he perceived the opposition to be a serious threat.
“The idea aims to interfere with SRP. There might be no spies, actually. It is only his psychological strategy,” Kong Korm said.
“Premier Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh better care to keep their votes, because SRP will take a lot of votes in the 2008 elections,” he added.
Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said spies would do the ruling party little good. “Sam Rainsy has no secrets, but transparency. So we don’t have a headache how many spies [Hun Sen] has here,” Eng Chhay Eang said.
Local opposition party supporters spoke enthusiastically about democratization and reform within the party. “I joined the party…because the other parties are not democratic,” said Phouk Phalla, a party member from Phnom Penh. “The reform means progress for the party.”
Ly Srey Vyna said that the grassroots organization of the party was growing stronger and that Sam Rainsy may not come back until the party takes power.
“We don’t expect that they will let Sam Rainsy come back until we win—then he can come in,” she added.
Eng Chhay Eang said senior party officials had in fact asked Sam Rainsy to continue his stay abroad, preferring his absence to his imprisonment.
“We agreed to keep Sam Rainsy overseas for a while, rather than [allow] dictators to imprison him unfairly,” he said.
Ken Sam Vutha, an opposition activist in Prey Veng province, said he didn’t mind if his leader was present or absent.
“Even though [Sam Rainsy] is not here, I feel that he is,” he said.