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Welcome to Malaysia, Sam Rainsy

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K Haridas explains why the Malaysian government should be lauded for allowing the exiled Cambodian opposition leader to visit the country.

While I can appreciate Asean’s policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of another member country, certain definite lines cannot be crossed.

But then, some issues call for a stand that any nation should be proud to take. It is in this context that I salute the Malaysian government’s decision to allow Sam Rainsy to enter Malaysia and to meet his friends here. It is no surprise that the international Human Rights Watch group has commended Malaysia for its stand

Sam Rainsy is a Cambodian patriot and a firm believer in democracy. Despite all his efforts at reconciliation, he has had to face the strong arm-rule of Hun Sen, who has been in power for 34 years, making him the world’s longest-serving prime minister. This in itself shows the power Hun Sen exerts over the levers of institutions in Cambodia.

Sam Rainsy’s Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) came close in the 2013 Cambodian general election, winning 55 seats against the 68 clinched by the prime minister’s Cambodian People’s Party.

This shook Hun Sen’s hold over Cambodian politics. In many ways, the strongman has done to Cambodia what Robert Mugabe has done to Zimbabwe.

Sam Rainsy was economy and finance minister in 1993-94 and has held other responsible positions in Cambodia.

After Sam Rainsy stepped down as party head, his successor as CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, was imprisoned in 2017, banned from politics and then placed under house arrest. (He was only released on 10 November 2019.) Many members of the party have fled. The CNRP was forcibly dissolved; it had become a force to contend with, having won widespread popular support.

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Into the scene comes China, a nation known for its familiarity with questionable leaders. In many ways, Cambodia is akin to Pakistan for its reliance on Chinese capital. Hun Sen has thrived on this relationship.

Malaysians should know this well as we were able to free ourselves just in time (at the 2018 general election) from the clutches of Chinese control.

It is wonderful that Nurul Izzah Anwar arranged for Sam Rainsy to meet Malaysian MPs yesterday. During his last visit, when I had the privilege of meeting him, he was keen on calling on Anwar Ibrahim – but the powers that be were not cooperative. He was then in Malaysia to attend a meeting of democratic parties in Asia.

When it comes to transboundary issues like the haze, Asean nations are able to discuss issues that involve the internal affairs of another nation. Likewise, on the Rohingya crisis, Malaysia has spoken out against Myanmar.

Whenever basic political and human rights are violated, we should as a nation express our views clearly. This is necessary because it establishes our position internally and gives us the moral standing and courage to talk straight to failed nations.

Sam Rainsy and the patriots in Cambodia need our recognition.

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