Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni on Monday announced that he would convene the first meeting of the country’s new parliament later this month despite a political deadlock after the opposition rejected results of the July 28 national elections, claiming widespread ballot irregularities.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his party would boycott the first sitting of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, unless the authorities agree to its request for an independent probe on charges of vote fraud and other election irregularities.
The country’s National Election Committee (NEC), which supervised the polls, confirmed over the weekend that Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had won the hotly-contested vote, prompting warnings from the opposition that it would continue to hold mass protests against the result.
“I will invite elected lawmakers for the fifth mandate to meet for the first time on Sept. 23 at the National Assembly,” Sihamoni wrote in a letter to NEC President Im Suosdey following his announcement of the official results of the elections, Cambodia's fifth since the U.N. reintroduced competitive polls in 1993 after decades of civil war.
The King is currently in China receiving a routine medical examination and is scheduled to return to Cambodia on Wednesday.
Sam Rainsy, who heads the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on Monday reiterated that he would not accept the NEC’s ratified results showing that the CPP won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, while his party gained 55 seats.
The NEC said 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 election result announced by the NEC is not accurate” due to fraud, Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service after being notified of Sihamoni’s decision to convene the National Assembly despite the opposition’s demand for an investigation into election irregularities.
“We will consider participating in the first assembly session only when there is an independent [group] or mechanism besides the NEC to seek the truth,” he said.
Sihamoni, as head of state, is designated by the Constitution to convene the first session of Parliament within 60 days of the polls.
Hun Sen, 61, who has been in power for 28 years and accused of blatant human rights violations, had said previously that he could convene parliament even without the CNRP's participation.
Some constitutional experts have said that the opposition MPs must be present at the first parliamentary session for any new government to be endorsed. The CPP claims however it is entitled to convene parliament because it has 50 percent of the seats.
The CNRP, which claimed it won at least 63 seats based on its own calculations, has highlighted various election irregularities, including a claim that one million voters had been delisted from the electoral rolls. Many voters had complained on polling day that they could not vote.
“The CNRP has maintained the same principle—our main principle, that can’t be changed, is to respect the voters’ will,” Sam Rainsy said.
“In order to respect the people’s will, we must seek the truth, and the truth is the real election result.”
He said that his party had appealed to Sihamoni in a letter for the second time on Sunday “asking for his intervention to help seek a transparent and just solution.”
The King had accepted the letter, he said, and the CNRP was awaiting his response.
CPP Senior member and party spokesman Cheam Yeap told RFA that the ruling party would not consider any request to form an independent committee as both the NEC and the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC), the nation’s highest court, had resolved all election complaints.
“The NEC and the CCC have already resolved all filed complaints, so there is nothing left [to investigate],” Cheam Yeap said.
Last week, the CCC ordered NEC staff members to be punished for mishandling secured ballot records from six of 12 polling stations in Siem Reap province, but dismissed a CNRP complaint questioning the accuracy of preliminary election results in the province based on the wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, CNRP officials and supporters vowed to continue protests in the capital Phnom Penh following a rally on Saturday in which nearly 30,000 convened to back the party’s demand for an independent polls probe.
The Cambodia Independent Teachers Association (CITA) said it will lead thousands of teachers, workers, and civil servants at three consecutive CNRP mass demonstrations scheduled for Sept 15, 16 and 17.
“We are gathering around 10,000 people to demand justice and truth,” CITA President Rong Chhun told RFA.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha called Saturday’s mass gathering a “success” that had provided important experience for opposition protesters.
He said that the three days of demonstration planned for next week would be “bigger” and organized as a march.
“The [upcoming] demonstration will be huge,” he said.
“It will last for three full days, and if there is no solution we will continue.”
Reported by Huot Vuthy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.