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Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy returns to Cambodia
Sam Rainsy's return to Cambodia is a powerful symbol for the Cambodia National Rescue Party. But the opposition leader is barred from standing as a candidate this election, because of his previous expulsion from parliament, and cannot campaign as an alternative prime minister.

Jim Middleton speaks with Cambodian Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: And I spoke to Sam Rainsy shortly after he landed in Phnom Penh.

Sam Rainsy, good to be talking to you again, big crowds to greet you. How does it feel to be back in Cambodia after so long in exile. After all, four years is quite a time to be out of your own country?

SAM RAINSY, CAMBODIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Yes, I am very moved by the reception I received. I didn't expect that many people but it's really impressing.

JIM MIDDLETON: What do you think your return to Cambodia can do to the prospects of the Opposition in the election?

SAM RAINSY: I think you should ask the opposite question. Without the presence of the Opposition Leader any election would be meaningless.

JIM MIDDLETON: So why then do you think that the Government actually agreed to allow you to return? Why were you pardoned?

SAM RAINSY: It is because of pressure, both internal pressure and international pressure. Internal pressure, domestic pressure is due to the fact that the Opposition receives a stronger and stronger popular support. So they cannot, I mean the ruling party cannot ignore the demand of the population to have the Opposition Leader back in the country.

And on the international front the international community has been warning the ruling party that without the presence of the Opposition Leader any election would not be viewed as a legitimate.

JIM MIDDLETON: What about that ambivalent status that you find yourself in as you say you cannot stand as a candidate and that means, does it not, that you can't achieve your ambition to lead your country?

SAM RAINSY: The ruling party has been using the court to eliminate opposition leaders from being a threat to the Government. But now that I have been granted pardon by the King, all my rights should be restored and I should be able to stand as a candidate before voting day.

JIM MIDDLETON: The Government does admit that the Opposition will do better in this election than in the past but it is still an uphill battle for you, is it not?

SAM RAINSY: Actually I consider the voting day this election as not the end of any process but actually it is the beginning of the real fight for democracy in Cambodia because this coming election will not be free and fair and will not reflect the will of the Cambodian people. On the contrary it would at best distort the will of the Cambodian people and at worse we will reverse the will of the Cambodian people.

JIM MIDDLETON: On those questions of electoral irregularities, the National Democratic Institute claims that fully 10 per cent of those on the electoral roll are bogus but what's the evidence?

SAM RAINSY: The voter registry audit conducted by the American Washington base, National Democratic Institute and also by another organisation, independent election monitoring group supported by the European Union, they all come to the same conclusion meaning that voter list has been manipulated.

A significant proportion, up to 15 per cent of the electorate has been disenfranchised and over 10 per cent of names on the voter list correspond to ghost voters and those ghosts or phantom voters will be used to inflate votes for the ruling party.

JIM MIDDLETON: The Opposition has a very big spending program platform designed to improve wages and job opportunities, raising the pension seven times, civil servant salaries by five fold, how would you actually pay for all this if you do win the election?

SAM RAINSY: We know that because of corruption the country lose up to $2 billion a year and this is in line with previous studies made by the USAID (US Agency for International Development). They have identified sources of corruption that cause loss of revenue for the state and state expenditures which are inflated so meaning that when we implement the rule of law, when we curb corruption, we would be able to collect enough resources to finance our measures.

JIM MIDDLETON: If the elections are found not to be free and fair, should the US Congress proceed with its threat to scrap aid to Cambodia? Would that not play into the hands of China which already has very significant influence over Hun Sen?

SAM RAINSY: The West democratic countries are still major donors bilaterally and also multilaterally through the international financial institutions Cambodia depends heavily on international assistance. So democratic countries do have a strong leverage to put the democratic process back on track because this democratic process has definitely derailed.

JIM MIDDLETON: Sam Rainsy, thank you very much indeed.

SAM RAINSY: Thank you.
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