Cambodian Opposition Party Defies Authorities With More Protests

cambodia-motorbike-rally-dec-2013.jpg CNRP supporters ride their motorbikes during a demonstration in Phnom Penh, Dec. 16, 2013.

Cambodia’s opposition held a second day of mass demonstrations Monday as protesters rode thousands of motorbikes to three of the capital’s major marketplaces demanding a re-election and calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government branded the gatherings by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as illegal, saying the main opposition party was inciting anarchy.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy and deputy chief Kem Sokha led the column of motorbikes as it snaked through Phnom Penh, making stops at the city’s Central Market, Kandal Market, and Old Market.

At each stop, protesters carried banners reading “There is Hun Sen, there is no justice and there is no freedom” and shouting anti-Hun Sen slogans and making calls for a new election through megaphones.

'Different activities'

Kem Sokha said the motorbike demonstration was just one of many activities planned by organizers in protests they say will continue until a re-election is announced.

“We have different activities, our activities are nonviolent,” he told the crowd.

“We will carry out different activities until we succeed. We will do it until the [ruling] Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) agrees to talk and to allow people to have justice. If the CPP continues to abuse the people, we will continue and we will do it bigger than before.”

He said one tactic the CNRP is considering is to block the country’s national highways, choking off access to the capital unless Hun Sen agrees to a new election.

The demonstrations follow disputed July 28 polls which saw the CPP officially named the winner, despite claims from the CNRP of election fraud, including the removal of more than 1 million names from the voter registration lists.

The government has refused demands by the CNRP to investigate the claims of irregularities, and on Sunday the opposition launched “nonstop” mass protests at the city’s Freedom Park that they vowed would continue until a re-election is held.

The government-appointed National Election Committee, which conducted the polls, declared the CPP the election winner in August, awarding the ruling party 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats.

The CNRP has boycotted parliament, calling for an independent probe into election irregularities which was dismissed by the government.

The opposition then called for new elections, saying it would hold daily protests until its call was heeded.

‘Illegal’ protest

The government and local authorities called the demonstrations illegal, though police monitoring the motorcade Monday only looked on without confronting the nonviolent protesters.

Council of ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the CNRP lawmakers should make their case at the National Assembly—Cambodia’s parliament—instead.

“To express their views they must respect the law,” he said.

“In a democratic world, you can’t abuse the law. They should implement the law.”

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dymong said the CNRP had provoked “anarchy” in the city and defied a city order which prohibited villagers from staying in Freedom Park overnight.

The CNRP on Monday issued a statement informing city hall that “the mass demonstration will be held daily from 7:00 a.m. beginning Dec. 16 at Freedom Park.”

It said that the demonstration would include “activities such as villagers expressing their views, music performances, documentary screenings, and nonviolent marches in the city.”

‘Finding justice’

Kem Sokha on Monday reaffirmed that CNRP would not participate in the National Assembly and would focus instead on “finding justice for the country’s voters.”

“The CPP must step down to provide justice if they don’t want to investigate the election irregularities. There must be a re-election,” he said, adding that the CNRP’s doors remain open for talks.

Talks between the CPP and CNRP have stalled after the latest meeting last month yielded little progress.

The CNRP has insisted that talks must have on the agenda discussions about an investigation into poll fraud, resignation of election officials, and 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 Joshua Lipes.

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