Cambodia’s main opposition party threatened Wednesday to hold a week of daily demonstrations climaxing with a mammoth rally on Sept. 7, on the eve of an expected announcement of final results of the controversial national elections.
The warning of continued protests in the capital beginning on Aug. 30 by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) came as election officials acknowledged Wednesday the mishandling of sealed ballot records in a second province, stoking concerns over the accuracy of poll results.
The National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s elections, has said it will release final results by Sept. 8 and, barring any surprises, many expect an announcement giving a win to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party on that date.
The CNRP has claimed widespread irregularities in the July 28 elections and has lodged protests with Cambodia’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, which is conducting a review of the complaints.
The CNRP issued a statement Wednesday saying that if no progress is made on forming a joint committee between the CPP and CNRP to probe election irregularities, the party will lead a mass demonstration in Phnom Penh on Sept. 7.
“If there is a deadlock on the establishment of the special committee for resolving election irregularities, the CNRP’s last option will be to organize a nonviolent, massive demonstration against the election results on Sept. 7,” the party’s statement said.
“The CNRP also appeals to the international community not to recognize an election that doesn’t represent the voters’ will or a government formed from such an election.”
The party will also hold daily demonstrations in the week leading up to Sept. 7 to prepare for the main protest, CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha said, amid concerns over security after the government deployed additional military forces in the city following the elections.
“From [Friday] we will practice for the demonstration. We will rehearse with team leaders until the [main] demonstration day,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan has previously warned that police will retaliate and demonstration leaders will be held responsible before the law if demonstrations turn violent or affect national security.
The CNRP, which has already led several mass demonstrations both before and after the polls, had previously said it would hold its biggest demonstration after the results announcement if CPP win is decided without a full independent investigation of complaints.
The NEC’s preliminary findings announced earlier this month support the CPP’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55.
The CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats in the National Assembly and has complained of massive irregularities including one million voters delisted from the electoral rolls, calling for a U.N.-backed investigation.
Sam Rainsy urges fresh talks
CNRP President Sam Rainsy urged the CPP Wednesday to resume talks on the formation of a joint committee on investigating irregularities, following previous rounds that stalled after the two parties disagreed on U.N. participation in the probe.
“The CNRP would like to request urgent talks between the two parties’ working groups and the members involved with the talks should be able to make any decision to establish the independent committee,” Sam Rainsy said in a letter to his CPP counterpart Chea Sim.
Cheam Yeap said the independent committee requested by the CNRP is “meaningless” and that the CNRP’s request to include the U.N. as observers in the committee was not in line with the country’s laws.
“We need only the Constitutional Council and the NEC, as is stated in the Constitution and the Election Law,” he told RFA.
“We shouldn’t establish the joint committee because delegates from the CPP already met [with the CNRP] and it was only waste of time.”
Irregularities in Battambang ballot records
The NEC admitted to mishandling ballot records from Battambang province on Wednesday after opening the sealed packages on the orders of the Constitutional Council, which has the final say on complaints of irregularities.