Veteran politician Son Sann, one of the most respected figures in recent Cambodian history, returned to a warm welcome Wednesday after almost a year away from his homeland.
The 87-year-old former premier, greeted by more than 250 emotional supporters, told his audience he had returned to help promote peace and national reconciliation for the good of all Cambodians.
Most concretely, he said, he had returned to take up his position on the as-yet-unformed Constitutional Council, whose role he was researching in France when July’s factional fighting broke out. Legislation for the council’s formation was taken up Wednesday at the National Assembly.
“I am here for national reconciliation, which is the best way to have peace for everyone,” he told reporters at Pochentong Airport after a welcome ceremony attended by a host of dignitaries, including the Buddhist patriarch Maha Ghosananda, and a choir of local schoolchildren. “I would like lasting peace for the country…no more O’Smachs, no more Samlots.”
Son Sann also called for King Norodom Sihanouk to play a role in restoring peace to the country and asked government and foreign powers for help in encouraging the monarch.
All sides must “offer His Majesty the King their assistance to completely supervise the necessary preparation and organization of the next legislative elections for those elections to be free and fair,” said Son Sann, who also holds a position as a senior adviser to the monarch.
Like many other leaders, Son Sann has appealed directly to the King to take an active role in the elections, such as heading the National Election Committee.
The King, however, has refused to become involved in the electoral process, citing criticisms by “republicans” that he stepped outside his constitutional boundaries in previous attempts to help mediate an end to the political crisis.
Like the King, however, Son Sann said his many years of political activism were now over and he was content to serve as a member of the Constitutional Council, the body responsible for ensuring the constitutionality of the nation’s laws.
In order to sit on the Council, Son Sann must resign as president of his faction of the BLDP, having already stepped down from his parliamentary seat last year in favor of Thach Reng.
Son Sann said he had already written a letter to the party’s steering committee announcing his retirement, but said he would make the resignation official at this weekend’s scheduled party congress.
The octogenarian statesmen, however, said he would not object to his party faction’s proposed name change to the “Son Sann Party” in order to compete in the scheduled July elections.
“Everyone knows my name, the old, the young,” he said. “Why prevent my name being used?”
Son Sann’s BLDP faction lost a protracted court battle with another faction of the party led by Ieng Mouly. But party members said they still plan to take the case to the Supreme Court.
Information Minister Ieng Mouly broke away from the party in 1995, taking four other BLDP parliamentarians with him to form a working alliance with the CPP.
Son Sann said he was glad to be working for the development of his country outside of the political fray, noting that after his years of service, little seems to have improved Cambodians.
“I have made many mistakes before. The people are still very poor, they have no confidence, ” he lamented. “So many years, nothing is better, so I recognize my faults.”