THE SAM RAINSY PARTY – A History in Brief
A PARTY WITH VISION AND COMMITMENT
“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who would profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from their adversaries and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.” Niccolo Machiavelli, from ‘The Prince’.
Indeed, obstacles for reformers seem insurmountable; but the Sam Rainsy Party is fully committed to building roads for a peaceful transition towards a liberalised democracy and self-sustainable economic development in Cambodia. To put it simply, it believes Cambodia can no longer afford to uphold the old order with feudalistic traits that favour a select few and has caused so much anguish to Cambodian people for centuries. A regime that has relied on instigating fears on population to administer a country definitely has a used-by date. A regime that continually depends so heavily on foreign handouts will not be able to secure a sustainable economic development in the long run. Time and again has it been proved in human history the old order can not co-exist with an increasingly clear trend of the new order of liberalised democracy.
With an unwavering determination to offer Cambodian people a better alternative government, a new political party, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP), was formed in early November 1995 under the leadership of Sam Rainsy. Sam Rainsy’s robust stance against corruption and economic mismanagement of the government earned a few friends in Cambodian politics. He was fired from his position as senior Minister for Finance and Economy in October 1994, then removed from his former party, FUNCINPEC, in May 1995 and unconstitutionally expelled from his seat in the National Assembly a month later. Sam Rainsy was then convinced that only with a new party with clear vision and commitment would Cambodia have any chance of pulling itself from the abyss.
To cultivate a political party that upholds common decency has not been, by any means, easy. In fact, it has been a dangerous route. In addition to unyielding threat and intimidation, four grenades were eventually thrown into a peaceful and authorised demonstration led by Sam Rainsy on Easter Sunday 1997 killing at least 17 demonstrators, and injuring more than one hundred. The demonstrators were demanding a reform of the judiciary to render justice for the people, a creation of the Constitutional Council, and a creation of the Supreme Council of Magistrates as stipulated in the Constitution. The government has either been incompetent or covered up the attacks as the culprits and the mastermind remain unidentified and still at large to this day.
The fledging structure and network of the KNP was severely damaged by a coup d’etat in July 1997 that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had carried out to consolidate its power grip and to demolish all oppositions. The KNP leadership was forced to hide in provincial areas or to seek refuge in Thailand. Armed looters with the authority’s blessing ransacked the Party headquarters and Sam Rainsy’s residence. After a few months of reluctant exile in protest against the coup, Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia at the end of 1997 to regroup the Party.
Under a regime where rule of law is either routinely ignored or blatantly violated, the ruling party came up with excuses for not registering the KNP as a political party. Consistent with the Cambodian authority’s relentless effort to deprive the Party a formal registration as a political party, a small breakaway group was induced by the ruling party to counter-claim the name of the Khmer Nation Party. The court system under the control of the ruling party conveniently ignored a petition to resolve the issue of the party’s name. It declined to hear the case before the national elections declared for 26 July 1998, claiming that the parties in conflict should resolve the issue for themselves. In effect, the case is still outstanding to this day.
As the elections approached, the Party had little choice but to adopt the name of its principal founder, Sam Rainsy, in March 1998. The adoption of the name effectively killed off one of the ruling party’s favourite tactics to weaken its oppositions. It was nothing new that the CPP used its network to encourage a small break-away group from any formidable party; the two groups would then squabble for the same name. The new name also allowed the Party to concentrate on the elections that were only four months away.
Despite perpetual intimidation, violence, and time constraint, the SRP’s campaign for the new order in the 1998 elections had been very effective. The ruling party who controlled the whole election process from voters registration to declaring election results was forced to concede a minimum of 15 out of the 122 seats in the National Assembly to the Party of less than three years old. It would have conceded fewer or nothing had the ruling party had its own way. The SRP’s popularity was so clearly manifested throughout the country that the CPP was forced to deal with it in an acceptable manner.
The SRP later gained seven seats in the Senate which was created to break political deadlock so that a coalition government could be re-formed between the CPP and FUNCINPEC, after the 1998 elections.
The SRP seeks primarily to propagate hope. Hope nurtures a sense of wholeness that includes moral integrity, empowers the poor to improve their own livelihood, promotes a peaceful co-existence, and affirms the dignity and worthiness of all people. It can of course be achieved with an adherence to the rule of just law, respect for human rights and democratic process, tight control over corruption, neutral public administration, social justice, land reform, better management of all national resources.
The Party’s vision and commitment are ardently shared by hundreds of thousand of active members throughout Cambodia covering all walks of life, and thousands more all over the world. There are more who work more effectively behind the scene. By the end of 1996, the Party’s membership amounted to 178,707. In August 2001, the SRP registered members reached 444,544. The SRP interest has been well represented all over the world. Its branches have operated in major cities of Australia, Canada, Belgium, France, Japan, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States. It is from this power base that the Party has derived so much tenacity and courage to initiate and pursue programs for gradual reforms to Cambodian institutions and mentality for a prosperous and democratic Cambodia.
The popular support for the SRP has further been demonstrated of late by its preparedness for the commune elections scheduled for early February 2002. First, the SRP is only 6 years old, and yet it has fielded 23,657 candidates covering 98% of the whole population comparable to the other two major parties that are decades older and are currently in power commanding much more resources. Second, the SRP has been subject to relentless threat, intimidation, and violence. During the past six years, the SRP has lost nearly 30 of its active members due to politically motivated killings; two members were savagely killed in the first half of November 2001.
Nevertheless, violence has not deterred, and will not deter, the SRP members from doing what they believe to be necessary to offer the Cambodian people a better alternative. The violent acts with impunity, induced or tolerated by the ruling party, will only add to criminal records of those who commit them. They will neither destroy nor weaken the SRP resolve.
Ung Bun Ang