I’m in Phnom Pehn Cambodia today, having just finished a photo shoot for The Asia Foundation. There’s quite a buzz in the country because election day is July 28th. The big news for today was the arrival of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy who’s been living in exile until he was recently pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni . Large crowds gathering along the street from the airport.
Sam Rainsy was born in Phnom Penh in 1949. He moved to France in 1965, studied there and then worked as an investment manager and executive director in a variety of Parisian financial companies. He became a member of the Cambodian Funcinpec Party, and after returning to Cambodia in 1992 was elected a member of parliament for Siem Reap Province the following year. He became Minister of Finance, but was expelled from the party after losing a vote of no-confidence in 1994. In 1995, he founded the Khmer Nation Party (KNP), which changed its name before the 1998 elections to the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) to avoid registration issues. Sam was elected a member of parliament for Kompong Cham province in those elections, and the party polled 14% of the vote. In the 2003 elections, it polled 22% of the vote.
On October 25, Rainsy was charged with racial incitement and destruction of property, and the Cambodian parliament stripped Rainsy of his immunity from prosecution in November. Rainsy was issued a summons to appear in court for a hearing. On January 1, 2010, the Svay Rieng provincial court issued an arrest warrant for Rainsy after he failed to appear in court. Rainsy had fled the country at this point and was residing in France in self-imposed exile. In September 2010, Rainsy was tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On July 12, 2013, King Norodom Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Rainsy at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, allowing the opposition leader to return to Cambodia without threat of imprisonment, although he remains ineligible for candidacy in the July 28, 2013 general election. Today Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia.
“I have come home to rescue the country,” Rainsy told the crowd gathered at Phnom Penh airport, after kneeling to kiss the ground.
“I am happy to be here!” Rainsy told the crowd speaking through a microphone as the supporters chanted, “We want change!”
Later, addressing a huge crowd at Freedom Park in the capital, he thanked King Norodom Sihamoni for the pardon and said: “I have received my full freedom and will use this freedom to protect Cambodians in the whole country.”
Supporters of his party know as CNRP (Cambodian National Rescue Party) Shouted, “Change or No Change” and urged everyone to “Change from No. 4 to No. 7″ in the July 28 election. The number 7 refers to the party’s position on the ballot papers, with No. 4 being Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and No. 7 being the CNRP. (that’s why in so many of the photos you see people holding up seven fingers or the Khmer script/character of the number 7).
Enjoy these images of the excitement in Phnom Penh today.