Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday threatened to lead a mass demonstration in the capital if Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party and the country’s main election body block an independent investigation into irregularities in recent national polls.
Both Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) claimed victory in the July 28 vote as they emerged with their own results, and the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s polls, has virtually backed the ruling party, though it has yet to announce the official results.
Sam Rainsy and CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha spoke to more than 1,000 supporters in Takeo province on Tuesday after days of tense talks with the CPP and NEC failed to establish a joint committee to resolve irregularities, which the opposition says includes the manipulation of voter lists.
The CNRP had insisted that any joint investigation committee must comprise officials from the party as well as the CPP, local civil society groups, and national and international observers, with the United Nations acting as an arbitrator. But the proposal to include the U.N. was rejected.
“If the CPP continues to deny our request and allows the NEC to announce an unjust election result, we won’t accept it,” Sam Rainsy told the crowd.
“We must organize a mass demonstration to demand justice until we succeed,” he said, without providing a timetable for the protest.
Later on Tuesday, Sam Rainsy reiterated claims that the CNRP had won the election while addressing around 10,000 supporters in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park and said that if his party was not acknowledged as the victor he would lead a demonstration “ten times bigger than this gathering.”
“We have won. We won't go backward, we will only move forward,” he told the crowd, as supporters shouted cries of victory.
Kem Sokha said that he hoped to be able to announce a CNRP win in every province soon.
“Sam Rainsy and I are committed to protect you and demand victory for you all,” he said.
“We will not succumb to defeat or sell out. We will demand justice for you.”
The deputy president denied that the CNRP has plans to work with the CPP, saying the ruling party would not split the opposition and urging Hun Sen to acknowledge having lost.
“If you declare that you have lost, we can talk. If you don't, we won’t hold discussions.”
The CNRP walked out on weekend talks with the CPP and the NEC after its demands to include the United Nations in the proposed investigation panel were rejected.
The CPP claims its review of results showed that it secured 68 seats and the CNRP won 55, while the CNRP maintains that based on its own calculations, it won 63 seats and the CPP took 60.
The CNRP says ballot irregularities resulted in more than 1 million names removed from voter lists, with a similar number of "phantom" voters added to them, along with what it called the duplication of about 200,000 names.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan warned that a mass demonstration would drag Cambodia into a state of crisis.
“[Sam Rainsy] is using the election to stage a demonstration,” Phay Siphan said.
“He hasn’t brought peace to Cambodia, but is only creating problems.”
Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), expressed concern that the CPP would hold a counterdemonstration that could lead to violence between the two groups.
But he told RFA’s Khmer Service that the mass gathering is necessary for CNRP supporters to express their frustration with the electoral process.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said Monday that he is disappointed that talks with the CNRP have failed, as the committee could not accept the opposition’s request, and said it will move ahead with an investigation on its own.
The NEC has received 125 complaints from 17 different provinces of irregularities related to voting and vote counting, 90 of which were filed by the CNRP, 15 by the CPP, and the rest from nongovernmental organizations and voters.
NICFEC director Hang Puthea said that the majority of complaints concerned missing names or allegations by voters that their ballot had already been used by someone else.
Overall, he said, the election process was acceptable and would improve in the future.
“[But the] NEC must be responsible for reforms in the next election,” he said.
Rights groups and the opposition have repeatedly accused the NEC of lacking independence from the CPP.
Meanwhile, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng called last month’s election an historic success.
“It has been a success and countries around the world recognize this election as a victory [for Cambodia],” he said.
“We have seen a lot of improvements compared to the previous election. We also have seen the number of opposition votes increase and the people express their views. The democratic process has improved.”
Late on Monday, the NEC issued a statement asking the public to ignore announcements of election results that have not come directly from its offices.
“We urge the public to wait for the official results, which the NEC will announce after verification and after resolving election irregularities,” the statement said.
“Misinformation about the election results may negatively affect social security and order.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.