Hundreds of Cambodians staged a peace march in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to call for a calm resolution to an election impasse as the opposition challenged the official preliminary results of the disputed polls.
The demonstrators, some 400 people including monks and representatives of local nongovernmental organizations, urged Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to break the political deadlock without violence.
The CNRP has challenged preliminary results that give a narrow win to the CPP despite allegations of widespread fraud, lodging formal complaints on Wednesday against the National Election Committee’s (NEC’s) tally that was announced two days earlier.
Amid uncertainty over the vote tallies, demonstrators concerned that the political deadlock could devolve into violence marched from the National Palace through Phnom Penh before stopping to pray at the city’s main temple Wat Phnom.
Demonstrators carried signs that read, “Cambodian people need peace,” and, “We need a peaceful solution.”
Their calls came as security forces took up positions on main street intersections in the capital and as police arrested two suspects in Monday night’s murder of a CNRP supporter in Kampong Speu province southwest of the city.
Preap Kol, a representative of the Working Group for Peace, said marchers had “sent important messages to politicians” and relevant authorities urging them to “keep the spirit of nonviolence in resolving the disputes caused by these election irregularities.”
One marcher, Ith Chea, said he participated in the rally because he didn't want to see a repeat of 1998, when post-election protests led to violent clashes and the shooting of demonstrators.
“I urge all political parties to engage in talks to avoid any violence that would affect social order,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“I want peace and I don’t want any violent activities stemming from the election,” said another demonstrator, Kong Sawath.
Complaint filed, results delayed
The CNRP’s petition against the NEC results came after the committee’s announcement Monday of preliminary province-by-province returns that gave 49 percent of the popular vote to the CPP and 44 to the CNRP.
CNRP official Kuy Bunroeun told reporters that his party “cannot accept” the NEC’s results that are “far different” from the CNRP’s own tally.
Complaints filed by the party cover 15 provinces and the overall vote, he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
The province-by-province vote count released by the NEC supports the CPP’s claim that it had won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, against the opposition's 55.
The CNRP claims to have won at least 63 seats.
The CNRP has called for a full investigation into irregularities with U.N. participation, saying more than 1 million people were removed from voter rolls.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha told RFA that at least three other political parties—smaller parties that ran in the election but are not claiming any parliamentary seats and did not have any before the polls—have announced that they do not recognize the NEC’s tally.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha had told RFA earlier in the day that if complaints were filed, the deadline for announcing official results would be September 8.
“In the case that there are complaints at the NEC or Constitutional Council, the NEC will announce the official results no later than September 8,” he said.
The government has repeatedly urged people to remain calm and continue about their daily lives while allowing the political parties to work out the establishment of a new government.
Cambodia last week deployed extra troops and armored vehicles in Phnom Penh following the CNRP’s warnings of mass protests amid tensions in the capital.
Murder suspects apprehended
Two suspects in the murder of CNRP activist Sann Soeung, who was gunned down Monday night in what opposition officials have labeled a “politically motivated” killing, have been apprehended by authorities in Kampot, police said Wednesday.
National Police Commission spokesman Kiet Chantharith said Kampot authorities apprehended the two suspects and confiscated a gun and ammunition from them, saying the murder was not politically motivated.
“I would like media outlets and politicians to know they shouldn’t link any murder case with politics,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“If you think too much about politics, the information will provoke chaos in society,” he said.
Local rights group Licadho’s Kampot coordinator Yun Phally said Sann Soeung’s killing was meant to intimidate other opposition supporters.
“The victim was an opposition activist and he was so popular in the area,” Yun Phally said. “This is a threat and intimidation against CNRP supporters.”
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha attended Sann Soeung’s funeral and vowed to seek justice for the victim.
Neighbors said that Sann Soeung was an activist who had gone to join rallies in Phnom Penh welcoming CNRP President Sam Rainsy on his return from exile the week before the election.
Cambodian authorities have warned that Sam Rainsy, who traveled to the U.S. last week to attend his daughter's wedding, will be held responsible if any mass demonstrations led by his party over disputed election results turn violent and threaten public security.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.