Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that his party had won at least 63 of the 123 seats at stake in Cambodia’s weekend parliamentary elections, enough to form a government with a simple majority, disputing victory claims by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party.
“Based on calculations by activists at polling stations, the CNRP [Cambodia National Rescue Party] won at least 63 seats” in the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“I hope that we won more, because that would allow the CNRP to easily form its own government,” he said, revealing for the first time his own estimate of the number of seats the CNRP grabbed in Sunday’s elections based on feedback from polling stations.
Sam Rainsy’s announcement came as he threatened to hold mass protests against the victory claimed by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) if the government refuses to hold investigations into election irregularities.
Hun Sen’s CPP claimed a narrow victory of 68 parliamentary seats on election night, down from 90 in the previous elections in 2008, citing its own assessment of initial results.
It also acknowledged that the CNRP had nearly doubled its number of seats from 29 to 55.
The National Election Committee (NEC), which manages Cambodia’s elections, has virtually endorsed the CPP findings although it has not yet announced the official results, an NEC official said.
Sam Rainsy said that his party has also been robbed of a firm victory because of irregularities that had marred the vote.
The CNRP claims that more than 1 million names had been removed from the voter lists, with a similar number of "phantom" voters added to them along with what it calls the duplication of about 200,000 names.
Sam Rainsy was barred from voting or running in the election by the NEC despite receiving a royal pardon for politicized criminal charges that got him an 11-year jail sentence and had kept him in self-exile in France.
The pardon came about two weeks before the July 28 election, and the NEC—which the opposition accuses of lacking independence from the ruling party—said it was too late for him to register as a voter and to contest in the polls. Sam Rainsy’s appeals had been rejected.
Threat of protests
Sam Rainsy on Tuesday posted a video on Facebook warning the CPP of a “massive demonstration on a nationwide scale” if it “doesn’t respect the election results.”
He asked his supporters to reject the CPP’s election count.
The opposition politician told RFA that the “only option to avoid a demonstration” would be for the government to establish an independent committee to investigate the election irregularities.
“I would like to announce that the CNRP—(Deputy President) Kem Sokha and I—don't want any demonstration that would lead to the participation of millions of people, but this is our last option,” he said.
“If we are facing a deadlock there must be a demonstration, but if we can avoid that we would be happier.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann stressed that Sam Rainsy’s announcement of a demonstration wasn’t aimed at inciting his supporters, but to inform the government that if it failed to resolve the election irregularities, Cambodia would see a mass movement of people speaking out against the results.
“The people are angry because their names were missing,” he said.
“Some people couldn’t vote because others had already voted in their names.”
Sam Rainsy said the CNRP would not be responsible for any turmoil if the CPP refuses to allow a probe into the election irregularities.
Also on Tuesday, he wrote an official request to the NEC requesting permission to participate in any investigation committee that it sets up.
The United States and the European Union have both expressed concerns over reports of election irregularities and have called for a full and open probe by the NEC despite an earlier call by the opposition for an inquiry involving the United Nations.
But the government appeared to reject calls for any such probe.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha told RFA that his committee would “resolve any complaints” filed with it but would have nothing to do with an investigation panel.
He said that he didn’t expect any complaints would affect the election results, as they had already been announced.
Reuters news agency quoted a senior Foreign Affairs Ministry official as rejecting allegations of irregularities in the vote.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the elections had been labeled “free and fair” by more than 10,000 national observers and 100 international monitors.
“The opposition party should be asked to show clearly what evidence it has about the irregularities it alleges,” he said, adding that there was no proof of any missing names.
“The National Election Committee has already said ‘Please bring up evidence, don't just say it, so we can work together to solve things’.”
CPP senior party member Chheang Von lashed out at the opposition statement, saying the ruling party is “not afraid” of any threat of a mass demonstration. He warned that if a demonstration took place, “the people would suffer.”
Long-ruling Hun Sen, who suffered his most serious political setback in years following the poor showing at the polls, has not spoken in public since the election.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said any protests against the election results would be peaceful.
“The CNRP will hold a nonviolent demonstration. If the government decides to crack down on us, they must be responsible,” he said.
“We don't want to hold a demonstration, so if the government and NEC want to avoid it, there must be a solution. The CNRP already introduced one option, but they have refused … so we can't guarantee anything.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.