In the largest demonstration since the disputed July elections, hundreds of thousands of Cambodia's opposition party supporters marched through the streets of the capital Phnom Penh on Sunday calling for Prime Minister Hun to step down and to announce new polls.
"This is a historic day," Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy declared, estimating that about 500,000 people participated in the march seeking the ouster of the longtime premier following July 28 elections marred by fraud and other allegations.
"The demonstrators demand Hun Sen step down," he said, shouting, "Hun Sen please step down." The crowd echoed his demand.
"[T]here were about 500,000 protesters who occupied a length of 5 kilometers [about 3 miles] of the long, wide, and straight Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh," Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page, posting photos of the mass gathering.
"The head of the CNRP procession had already reached the corner with Mao Tse Tung Boulevard when its tail was still at Democracy Square [Freedom Park]. Given the people density of the crowd as seen on these photos [about 100 persons per meter] the number of protesters could easily reach 500,000," he said.
The CNRP, which has boycotted parliament saying it was robbed of victory due to poll fraud, launched daily mass protests a week ago to force a re-election after its calls for an independent election probe into irregularities were dismissed by the government.
It has vowed to keep up daily protests for three months or until there is a fresh vote.
But Hun Sen on Friday rejected the call for his resignation and fresh elections, saying there is no provision in the country's constitution that allows for a re-election.
“They ask me to resign, but what have I done wrong?” Hun Sen said. “I obtained my position by means of the constitution and I will only leave it by means of the constitution,” he said.
Hun Sen, who has been premier for the last 28 years, said that according to article 78 of the constitution, the National Assembly shall not be dissolved before the end of its five-year term, except when the government is twice deposed within a period of 12 months.
Sam Rainsy insists that the party is determined to get to the bottom of the election irregularities, saying the people had been denied their choice of government.
"CNRP's strength comes from the people's strength. Nobody can win over the people's strength," he said.
After the July polls, the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s polls, declared Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) the winner with 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP claimed it won at least 63.
The NEC and the CCP have both said that all claims of poll irregularities have been investigated and rejected, making an independent probe sought by the opposition unnecessary.
Talks between the two parties to break the political stalemate have stalled after their latest meeting last month yielded little progress, with the CPP calling on elected CNRP lawmakers to end their boycott and resolve any complaints from within parliament.
The CNRP last week threatened to block key highways leading into the capital Phnom Penh and seize state buildings if the government continues to ignore opposition demands.
Hun Sen had said the CNRP’s plan could harm the country’s “national security” and warned of government action.
“The government is tolerant of peaceful demonstrations but will not allow any illegal activities that provoke social instability,” he said on Friday.
Protesters fed up
Some of the demonstrators who participated in the march Sunday from their base at Freedom Park to the city center said in speeches that they were fed up with various issues affecting the country, citing social injustice, corruption, unemployment, and land grabs.
One protester, speaking from the top of a CNRP vehicle, told the crowd that she joined the demonstration because she could not find a job after graduation and after her father had invested heavily in her education.
"I would like to ask Hun Sen to resign [so that] Sam Rainsy and [deputy CNRP president] Kem Sokha can help the students, regardless of whether they are poor or rich," she said.
Another protester said she wants Sam Rainsy to be the new prime minister.
The CNRP has deployed thousands of supporters to help maintain security during the protest marches and at Freedom Park, where many of them have camped out.
The heightened security came after several vehicles dumped garbage transported from elsewhere at the park in an apparent attempt to blame the party for the piles of trash accumulated in the area.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.