Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called on the country’s king to step in to resolve a political crisis over recent disputed polls as time runs out for legal challenges before officials announce final election results this weekend.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president made the appeal to King Norodom Sihamoni as his party geared up for a planned mass protest Saturday against irregularities in the July 28 polls.
"I request Your Majesty to intervene in order to find a resolution for the irregularities in the election with the transparency and justice that the Cambodian people want," he said in a letter dated Monday and made public on Wednesday.
Sam Rainsy promised the planned demonstration would “be peaceful and [held] with dignity, according to Your Majesty’s ideas.”
King Sihamoni, who is officially the head of state, responded with a letter thanking Sam Rainsy for his message but did not say whether he would intervene in the dispute.
“I would like to thank His Excellency who has paid his respects,” King Sihamoni said in his reply Tuesday from Beijing, where he is traveling this week for a regular medical check-up.
The king, who in June gave Sam Rainsy a royal pardon that allowed him to return from exile in time for the polls, has called for unity and calm ahead of the planned CNRP-led protest, urging the public to have faith that the dispute will be resolved according to the country’s constitution.
Last month, he had appealed to the CPP and CNRP to hold talks to find a “peaceful solution” for the sake of the nation.
Freedom Park rehearsal
The CNRP has claimed widespread irregularities in polls and lodged protests with Cambodia’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, which is conducting a review of the complaints.
The party’s mass demonstration is scheduled on the eve of an expected Sept. 8 announcement of final election results by the National Election Committee (NEC) that could confirm preliminary findings that the CPP has won a majority of the seats in parliament.
On Wednesday, some 2,000 CNRP supporters gathered in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park for a rehearsal by team leaders for Saturday’s demonstration.
At the dry run, Sam Rainsy urged all voters who are disappointed with the irregularities to join the protest “in order to show that we don’t agree with election fraud and the unjust election.”
“The more demonstrators we have, the quicker we will receive justice,” he said. The protest will include a prayer ceremony, he said, refuting earlier speculation that it would be a sit-in.
The protest is expected to be one of the country’s largest opposition protests in a decade.
The government has deployed additional military forces, tanks, and armored personnel carriers in the capital city since polling day after both parties claimed victory in the election.
The government warned that police will retaliate and demonstration leaders will be held responsible before the law if the protest turns violent or threatens security.
Sam Rainsy urged all demonstrators to act peacefully and not to provoke any violence.
“The use of violence is not dignified,” he said, while about 30 police and military officers were deployed in the park during the rehearsal.
Peace prayers at Wat Phnom
Nearby at the city’s main temple Wat Phnom, some 100 people, including monks, gathered for a Buddhist ceremony to pray for peace and justice amid the political crisis.
In their third gathering at the temple in recent weeks, they floated boats along the river to send messages of peace to the country’s leaders, one demonstrator named Tim Malay said.
“I came to release floating boats to dispel bad luck from Cambodia,” he said.
Preliminary results from the NEC announced last month support the CPP’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55.
The CNRP claims it has won at least 63 seats and has accused the NEC of stealing votes from the opposition and giving them to the CPP.
The Constitutional Council is expected to rule on the legitimacy of the preliminary results before the final results are announced.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.