Cambodia’s opposition party will hold a mass demonstration next month to call for international intervention in the country’s political crisis following disputed elections, according to party leaders.
The Oct. 23 protest by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh will coincide with the anniversary of a 1991 U.N.-brokered peace deal that ended decades of internal conflict, the leaders said over the weekend.
Prior to the event, the CNRP will hold a public rally at the same venue this Sunday to “decide the party’s next moves,” following its boycott last week of the first session of parliament after the July 28 elections.
The boycott was aimed at challenging the election victory of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which according to official results, won 68 seats in the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, compared with 55 by the CNRP.
The CNRP claims that the elections were tainted by fraud and that it was robbed of victory.
Paris Peace Agreements anniversary
The Oct. 23 demonstration will coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, which were signed by the United States and 17 other countries and laid out the process for ending decades of conflict in Cambodia and building a democratic society anchored in human rights and the rule of law.
The protest is being held “in order to bring petitions for the United Nations and Paris Peace Agreements signatory countries to the U.N. office in Phnom Penh,” a party statement said.
The CNRP, which has called for an independent, U.N.-backed probe into irregularities in the elections, has led several mass demonstrations since the elections.
Violence broke out on the sidelines of its latest protest on Sept. 15 when a man was shot dead by police.
After talks between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen failed to resolve the election dispute, the country’s king last week convened a session of parliament in which CPP lawmakers voted Hun Sen to be reappointed prime minister and to form a new government.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has denounced Hun Sen’s new government as “unconstitutional” for pushing ahead with a parliamentary session without the opposition and has threatened to organize a nationwide general strike.
‘Not too late’
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said the party was holding off until after this week’s Pchum Ben Buddhist holiday to lead more demonstrations but was still demanding an independent probe into election irregularities despite the formation of the new government.
“It is not too late,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service, saying the CNRP is still committed to maintaining its demands for the probe.
“The current government can’t work because no one recognizes it,” he said, adding that Hun Sen’s government and parliament represent only “half the country’s voters.”
According to the National Election Committee, which conducts the country’s elections, the CPP won 3.2 million votes compared to CNRP's 2.9 million votes, the worst result obtained by Hun Sen's party in more than a decade. The CPP also lost its two-thirds majority in the legislature.
“The CNRP wants to hold demonstrations immediately, but we [also] want to wait until the Pchum Ben festival is over,” he said.
The festival is a time when Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap criticized the CNRP’s plans to petition the U.N. and Paris Peace Agreements signatories, likening the move to inviting foreign countries to control the fate of an independent state.
“Sam Rainsy wants foreigners to control us forever,” he told RFA.
“If the CNRP wants to make complaints to the United Nations, then they should go ahead,” he said.
He said the opposition’s boycott of the National Assembly was equivalent to not recognizing Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni.
Grenade attack memorial
On Monday, as part of rituals for the Pchum Ben festival, CNRP leaders attended a memorial ceremony for victims of a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition gathering, calling for an end to the country’s “culture of impunity.”
Rights groups have accused Hun Sen's administration of involvement in the attack, which killed 16 and injured more than 150, including Sam Rainsy.
Speaking at a stupa in Phnom Penh dedicated to the 16 who died, Sam Rainsy called for the government to bring justice to the perpetrators and said he hopes the country can shed its legacy of political violence.
“I urge all people to stay united and to work toward change in the year of 2013,” he said.
“We want a change from violent to nonviolent culture. We want to change the culture of impunity with an independent court to prosecute criminals,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.