Thousands of Cambodia opposition party supporters marched on U.S., U.K., and French embassies in the capital on Thursday, delivering petitions calling for the intervention of the world powers to help restore multi-party democracy in the country following disputed elections.
The march came on the second of three days of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) mass protests in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park highlighting demands for an independent probe into July 28 polls the party says were tainted by widespread fraud.
More than 30,000 supporters took part in the rally and march on Thursday, about half as many as the day before, when supporters delivered a petition to the U.N. human rights office with the thumbprint signatures of 2 million Cambodians aggrieved over official election results that declared Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) victor.
The CPP won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55 in the election, according to the government-appointed National Election Committee, but the opposition says it was robbed of victory.
At around 9:00 a.m., CNRP president Sam Rainsy and party number two Kem Sokha led demonstrators through the city streets before handing over the petitions to the embassies of the three nations, urging their leaders to pressure Hun Sent to abide by the spirit of a 1991 U.N.-brokered deal that helped end decades of conflict in Cambodia.
Sam Rainsy, whose party has boycotted parliament in protest against the election results, told supporters after the march that embassy officials had accepted each of the petitions and promised they would reach the ears of their respective leaders.
“They are paying attention to the situation in our country, especially to the issue of democracy. They said that they will help our country to have full democracy,” he said.
The three countries were key signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which emphasized building a democratic society anchored in human rights and the rule of law and laid the foundation for U.N.-sponsored elections two years later.
The CNRP said “grave irregularities” in this year's election, the lack of an independent probe, and the formation of a government had pushed the country back to a one-party system of governance and deviated from the principles of multi-party democracy enshrined in the accords.
“We seek your assistance in resolving the current political deadlock by ensuring the enforcement of the Paris Peace Accords, the sole foundation for multi-party democracy and development for our nation,” the CNRP’s petition letters said.
Last month, the CPP unilaterally approved a new five-year term for Hun Sen, who has led the country for the past 28 years, after the CNRP boycotted the first session of parliament since the polls.
The United States and the U.K. have not sent messages of congratulations to Hun Sen, with the U.S. instead urging an independent probe into the polls.
Earlier this week, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch slammed France—along with Australia and Japan—for sending him congratulations despite “credible” reports of an unfair election system, serious irregularities that may have affected the outcome, and an unwillingness by the ruling CPP to seriously address complaints.
The group also called on Cambodia’s donors and other countries to publicly press Hun Sen’s government to set up an independent, internationally assisted investigation into the elections.
In his speech after delivering the petitions, Sam Rainsy praised and thanked the United States for calling for a probe.
“The U.S. stance is important. They called for an independent committee to reveal the truth and resolve those election irregularities,” he said.
“We express our thanks to the U.S., which took a strong stance that helps lay a strong foundation for democracy in Cambodia.”
On Friday, the demonstrators will deliver similar petitions to the embassies of Australia, Russia, Japan, and Indonesia, and China—which are all also among the 18 signatories of the Paris Peace Agreements.
Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha said they would spend time in Freedom Park on Thursday night to keep morale high among the demonstrators, many of whom have defied government restrictions by spending the night in the park.
The Ministry of Interior on Wednesday reminded the CNRP to comply with instructions from municipal officials limiting the number of participants to 10,000 and barring them from staying overnight in the park or public areas during the three days of protests.
Thousands of riot police have been stationed in the city to enforce security during the demonstration and have largely looked on.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.