Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Thursday said that a mass protest planned for next week will only call for an investigation of widespread irregularities in July polls and is not aimed at toppling Prime Minister Hun Sen in a coup as alleged by the government.
Sam Rainsy explained the objective of the Sept. 7 protest at a press conference in the capital Phnom Penh, addressing claims by the Ministry of the Interior earlier this week that he plans to overthrow the government by calling for mass protests.
“Our goal is to show the national and international community that we have a lot of supporters so that in the future we will have a stronger position in talks,” he said, adding that the planned nonviolent rally would call for the establishment of an independent panel to investigate irregularities during the July 28 polls.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), of which Sam Rainsy is president, has said that it will hold a week of demonstrations beginning Aug. 30 and climaxing with a mammoth protest on Sept. 7 amid tensions in the capital Phnom Penh following election uncertainties.
Sam Rainsy said Thursday that the party would “only consider suspending the mass demonstration if the CPP returns to talks” on investigating voter fraud.
Previous rounds of talks on the formation of a joint committee on investigating irregularities stalled after the two parties disagreed on U.N. participation in the probe.
The Ministry of Interior earlier this week sent letters to more than 40 embassies, along with local and international NGOs, warning them of the government’s fears that demonstrations held by the CNRP could be used as an attempt to conduct a coup, according to the Cambodia Daily.
Sam Rainsy denied those claims and said he plans to hold training sessions to show supporters how to peacefully demonstrate ahead of the Sept. 7 rally, saying that he would ask foreign experts for assistance as the Cambodian people lack experience in staging large-scale opposition protests.
The National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s elections, has said it will release final results by Sept. 8, and barring any surprises, many expect an announcement giving a win to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party on that date.
Preliminary results awarded a victory to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People Party (CPP) despite complaints of irregularities, including one million voters delisted from the electoral rolls.
Sam Rainsy has accused the NEC of stealing votes from the opposition and giving them to the CPP after its preliminary findings supported the ruling party’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s 55. The CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats in the National Assembly.
The CNRP has lodged protests over the election irregularities with Cambodia’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, which is conducting a review of the complaints.
CPP President Chea Sim on Thursday wrote a letter to Sam Rainsy claiming that the ruling party would continue talks with the CNRP on the establishment of an investigative committee, despite senior CPP official Cheam Yeap calling the suggestion “a waste of time” one day earlier.
“The Cambodian People’s Party exhibits goodwill in continuing talks to resolve the remaining issues related to the election results in the spirit of national reconciliation and in order to ensure harmony for the people,” Chea Sim wrote. He went on to criticize the CNRP for the earlier breakdown in talks.
Also on Thursday, the CPP issued a rare statement which warned CNRP supporters who plan to take part in the Sept. 7 rally that they would be held responsible for any unrest, though it stopped short of calling on the opposition to cancel the gathering.
“The CNRP declaring a nonviolent mass demonstration … will impact on the daily conduct of the people who are currently living peacefully,” the statement said.
“Such an act is also an intention to negate the election which was evaluated by national and international public opinion as peaceful, free, and transparent.”
The Ministry of the Interior has said that the government would protect the country if any mass demonstration turns into riots, and Hun Sen has deployed troops, tanks, and armored vehicles in the capital to bolster security, which the opposition said was a move to intimidate the people.
On Thursday, around 200 NGO officials, monks, and residents of Phnom Penh gathered in the capital to hold a peace prayer session for the third time since preliminary election results were announced by the NEC.
Hun Sen will lead a delegation to attend the 10th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China Expo from Sept. 2-3 in Nanning city in China's Guangxi province, as CNRP supporters begin to ramp up for the mass rally.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.