A Tiger Rules the Mountain

The world's longest serving Prime Minister and Cambodia's pursuit of democracy

Rainsy’s Return

Chapter 4, To The rescue

‘Despite both having pushed for greater democracy and human rights since the 1990s, there had been friction and discord between Rainsy and Sokha over the years. It was not a surprise that when Sokha decided to re-enter politics he set up his own Human Rights Party, rather than join Rainsy. Equally unsurprising was his failure to wrestle support from the CPP, instead support for the CPP grew during this time and it was Sam Rainsy who lost some of his.’

‘Soon after the 2012 local commune elections Rainsy and Sokha held a two-day conference in the Philippines. When they looked at each other, their own failures stared at them in the face. They realised that fighting each other would consign Cambodia to Hun Sen for a lifetime and they must oppose him together. In the depths of despair, the Cambodian National Rescue Party was born.’

Chapter 5, Shifting Currents

‘The motorcade, with people hanging off it and others clamouring to hold onto it, crawled through the streets that had been momentarily reclaimed by the city’s poor and trampled upon. Women wearing brightly coloured Angry Birds pyjamas cheered and waved. Behind them, piled up against shop fronts, were bicycles cast aside by people who had joined the march of the oppressed. Rainsy and Sokha bowed towards their supporters, pressing the palms of their hands together to express respect and service.’

‘Three children, old enough only to recognise hope and joy rather than the reasons for them, ran ahead of the motorcade hoping to be gifted a wave back in return, while others filmed on their phones what their eyes struggled to believe. Some climbed on their motos, up lampposts or whatever they could find so that they could behold Sam Rainsy.’

Chapter 5, shifting currents

‘The thousands of people at Freedom Park were vibrant as Rainsy took to the stage. Their voices chanted “song-kruh-cheeit”, meaning “rescue the nation”, with their fists pumping in time with the rhythm. When Rainsy began to speak, the crowd settled to a hush.’

“We live in the dark, but we need the sunlight to shine. Do you want change?! We need to change from losing our land to holding onto it, forever. Do you want change?!”

‘CNRP officials could hardly believe what they were witnessing as the crowd rose with Rainsy’s oration and flags danced in the sky.’

”I am back now. I am here with you, let me hold your hand, put my hand on your shoulder, and together we will break down the walls. I save the nation with you. We are working together to save our nation.’

Chapter 5, Shifting Currents

‘The party continued into the night and speeches gave way to bouncing, raucous music. Hands were held high in the air and a man stood on his moto waving a giant CNRP flag with its logo of a sun rising against a blue background. A group of women in their fifties wearing pyjamas stood behind me, and another woman held her baby in front of me. The music was of young people, but the spirit had drawn people of all ages.’

Chapter 5, Shifting Currents

‘A group of young people filled the stage and began to lead a traditional dance with people’s arms and bodies swaying rhythmically in unison to softer music. The baby was looking at me over her mother’s shoulder, completely unperturbed by the drama. She let out a yawn and closed her eyes. It was time for Cambodia to sleep and dream.’