In his first statements to the public after receiving a 10-year prison sentence from Phnom Penh Municipal Court, SRP president Sam Rainsy yesterday brushed aside questions about who will lead his party while he is in self-imposed exile, saying the issue is not crucial.
On Thursday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Mr Rainsy on charges of forging public documents and spreading disinformation stemming from his claims that Vietnam encroached on Cambodian territory. The Thursday decision adds to the two-year sentence he received in January.
Speaking through a video-conference link from Paris, Mr Rainsy brushed aside questions about who will lead the party as his self-imposed exile continues.
“The Sam Rainsy Party is not made up of Sam Rainsy at all. There are thousands of Sam Rainsys in Cambodia,” he said. “I have countless colleagues within the party who can lead the party, who can organize the party, who can manage the party. So this is not crucial for me.”
He said his fight against impunity, including pursuing charges against CPP officials in US Federal Court regarding the 1997 grenade attack, was more important.
He also reminded those listening at the SRP headquarters that he has returned in the past from exile following a criminal conviction.
“I am not desperate at all,” Mr Rainsy said. “On the contrary, I am grateful to Mr Hun Sen, grateful to the CPP because what they tried to do against me actually brings attention to the situation of Cambodia.”
SRP officials in Phnom Penh said Mr Rainsy is still the leader of the party.
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said fellow party lawmaker Kong Korm will continue as the acting president with assistance from the permanent standing committee, though Mr Rainsy is still in charge.
New leadership would not be sought, she said.
“Why should we? This is how we fall into the trap of the CPP. You are talking about someone who was sentenced by a kangaroo court,” she said.
Mr Kong said his main duties as acting president entail signing documents and Mr Rainsy will continue to lead. “The party is still led by Sam Rainsy,” he said.
SRP lawmaker and party spokesman Yim Sovann said modern technology will ensure that Mr Rainsy will continue to steer the party.
“He is still the most important of the party. Because of the modern technology he is not far away. There is no difference at all,” Mr Sovann said, adding that Mr Rainsy’s physical absence does not change the party’s political will.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, rejected accusations that the Thursday judgment is related to politics.
“This is misleading to the public and especially to his own people, and what we learned from the judgment is that it is his own personal issue against the government,” he said.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Mr Rainsy’s absence weakens the party and that it is unclear how long he can lead the party from exile.
“They have experience in the past in exile, so he is an expert on how to work with that situation. It depends on how long [it lasts],” he said. “Our politicians now, they know how to bargain. They know how to talk, how to get themselves back.”