Cambodia Opposition Threatens to Block Highways Next Month

cambodia-cnrp-protest-tents-dec-2013.jpg CNRP protest organizers set up additional shelters for demonstrators in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park, Dec. 18, 2013.

Cambodia’s main opposition party warned Wednesday that it would hold its “biggest protest ever” next month resulting in the closure of national highways and bringing traffic to a grinding halt in the capital if Prime Minister Hun Sen ignores demands to resolve election complaints.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) announced the plans as thousands of anti-government demonstrators joined party leaders for a motorcycle procession through Phnom Penh on their fourth consecutive day of protests calling for new elections over alleged fraud in July polls.

Hundreds have camped out in the city’s Freedom Park since Sunday, when the CNRP launched daily protests after the government ignored its push for an independent probe into voting irregularities in the July 28 elections

CNRP Acting Executive Committee Director Mao Monivann told RFA’s Khmer Service that the plan for early January will involve a massive protest blocking eight national highways, choking off access to the capital.

By shutting down transportation crucial to keeping the country’s economy afloat, the party aims to force the government to listen to demonstrators’ demands, he said.

“In early January, we will organize the biggest protest ever,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“We will seize some main locations and seal off eight national routes. We will freeze traffic,” Mao Monivann said.

Government officials said that the plan was illegal, warning that CNRP leaders could face prosecution for leading such a protest.

“The Traffic Law states that anyone who blocks roads will be prosecuted,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told RFA.  

He warned that the plan could escalate the protests to the level of political turmoil seen in neighboring Thailand, where four died and dozens more were injured in clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters at the beginning of the month. 

Freedom Park

The CNRP has boycotted parliament and led several mass demonstrations since the July 28 polls, calling for an independent probe into widespread irregularities and fraud it says cost it the election.

Party leaders have vowed to keep up the current round of protests “every day nonstop” for three months.

Stepping up preparations for a long haul in Freedom Park, protest organizers set up more shelters on Wednesday for demonstrators staying overnight—many of whom have come from out of town.

Organizers also set up a committee to look into demonstrators’ security, health care, and food.

They distributed more blankets to demonstrators who are braving unusually low temperatures amid a cold snap in the city.

During the motorcycle procession from the park through the city streets, CNRP president Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha said that in the future, protesters could hold a sit-in in public streets to force Hun Sen to quit.

Back in the park, demonstrators shouted, “Hun Sen, please step down. Do you hear the people’s shouts?”

“Hun Sen is incompetent.  I see his leadership as going backward in time,” one demonstrator there told RFA. 

Electoral reform

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has said it is committed to electoral reforms, but has provided few details on how it might proceed.

Rights groups and the opposition party have dismissed the pledges as half-hearted, calling for an overhaul of the whole system including the country’s main polls body, the National Election Committee, which they have long held heavily favors the ruling party.

The NEC released a fresh statement Wednesday saying it had fully addressed complaints about the July polls.

“For the fifth mandate election, the NEC has fulfilled its duties in accordance with the law and other regulations and resolved all relevant complaints regarding the election result,” the statement read.

“The NEC welcomes any recommendations for electoral reforms and is ready to participate in a national workshop to talk about electoral reforms that will be held late December 2013 or early 2014,” it said.

After the July polls the NEC declared the CPP the winner with 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP claimed it won at least 63.

Talks between the two parties 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 has insisted that talks must have on the agenda discussions about an investigation into poll fraud, the resignation of election officials, and the implementation of recommendations from U.N. experts and NGOs on electoral and other reforms.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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