Undeterred by deadly flooding gripping the country, Cambodia’s opposition is pressing on with its campaign questioning the legitimacy of Prime Minster Hun Sen’s new government, more than two months after disputed polls.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy headed abroad Monday to drum up support for international intervention in the country’s political crisis after leading a rally of 15,000 supporters a day earlier under rainy skies in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Meanwhile outside the capital, heavy flooding during the annual rainy season has inundated large swathes of land, forcing thousands from their homes and closing schools and temples.
The death toll from floods since mid-September climbed to 83 on Monday, the National Disaster Management Committee said, as authorities cancelled plans for the annual water festival in front of the royal palace in Phnom Penh.
But the floods did little to dampen Sunday’s demonstration, where Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) supporters sheltered from the rain under ponchos and umbrellas as they vowed to continue to fight against results of the July 28 polls they say were rigged.
The “people’s congress” rally, which was the party’s first large protest since deadly violence broke out on the sidelines of a demonstration last month, was aimed at setting an agenda for the CNRP’s next moves following its boycott last month of the first session of parliament since the polls.
Demonstrators cheered their support for CNRP’s strategy to hold a general strike, lobby foreign governments, and gather support for a petition asking the U.N. to support the party's call for an independent probe into election irregularities.
Sam Rainsy departs
Following the rally, CNRP President Sam Rainsy left Monday on a two-week trip to the U.S. and Europe to drum up support for international intervention in the standoff.
While in New York he will ask the U.N. to strip Cambodia of its seat at the world body, he told reporters before his departure.
“We want the international community not to recognize the illegitimate government,” he said, adding, “It is an abuse of the voters’ will.”
Party spokesman Yim Sovann said Sam Rainsy’s trip is aimed at “seeking support to resolve the current political deadlock.”
CNRP President Sam Rainsy (r) and deputy chief Kem Sokha (l) address supporters a the rally in Phnom Penh's Freedom Park, Oct. 6, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
The CNRP, which claims it has been robbed of election victory in polls tainted by fraud, has called for an independent, U.N.-backed probe into irregularities in the polls.
Its lawmakers boycotted parliament last month so as not to recognize the election victory of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which according to official results won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55.
The CNRP has said it will petition the 18 countries that signed the Paris Peace Agreements, a 1991 U.N.-brokered peace deal that ended decades of internal conflict, to intervene in the dispute.
It has also laid plans for an Oct. 23 nationwide demonstration coinciding with the 22nd anniversary of the Paris accords, which has also emphasized building a democratic society anchored in human rights and the rule of law. CNRP strategy
A CNRP statement released after Sunday’s rally said demonstrators taking part in the people’s congress had backed the party strategy.
“The people’s congress agreed to allow the CNRP to continue to demand justice for voters by holding mass demonstration across the country, expanding diplomatic efforts to seek a solution, encouraging civil servants workers to conduct a nationwide strike, [and] encouraging the people to gather thumbprints to the United Nations and Paris Peace Accord signatory countries to implement the agreement,” it said.
Demonstrators also supported plans for the CNRP to demand the government release all political prisoners, rights activists, and prisoners of conscience, it said.
The CNRP must also demand the establishment of a committee to seek the trust of the voters and to establish a new National Election Committee to oversee the country’s polls, it said. Seasonal flooding
Meanwhile, flooding has forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 families, while hundreds of schools and dozens of homes have been deluged.
The flooding—which is common in Cambodia from August through October—has this year affected 15 provinces across the country, with Battambang, Pailin, and Siem Reap hit most recently.
In Siem Reap, the hub of the country’s key tourism industry, flooding has threatened to damage ancient temples in the world-renowned Angkor complex and disrupt operations at the airport.
Heavy rain and strong winds uprooted a 100 foot (30-meter) tree and sent it crashing into the ancient Preah Khan temple in the complex.
The cancellation of this year’s water festival due to the floods makes it the third year in a row the celebrations will not go forward.
In 2011 the festival, which usually draws millions of people, was cancelled due to severe floods and in 2012 due to the death of former King Norodom Sihanouk.
More than 350 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge during a water festival celebration in 2010. Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.