Several thousand members of Cambodia’s opposition National Rescue Party plan to march Wednesday to back persistent calls for electoral reforms, defying warnings of action by the authorities.
The NRP, a coalition set to challenge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party in July national polls, has been granted permission to hold a rally to highlight their reform call in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, but it wants to march from the park to the offices of the country’s national electoral body, the National Election Committee (NEC).
Officials have said they will crack down on the protesters if they pursue the unauthorized march.
“The ministry has agreed with the city hall that they are allowed to hold a sit-in demonstration at Freedom Park,” Ministry of the Interior Spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday.
“But we will not allow them to march because it would cause a traffic jam,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Call for reform
Despite the warning, the National Rescue Party will lead about 4,000 demonstrators to the NEC offices to call for the implementation of reforms recommended by rights groups and the U.N. for a free and fair election, the party’s permanent committee member Kuy Bunrouen said.
“The NEC must be neutral at all levels,” he told RFA, adding that the march will go ahead “regardless” of what the Ministry of the Interior has said.
“The NEC must allow voters their full rights according to the constitution. The NEC must allow all political parties to have fair access on state radio and television,” he said.
He said the NEC should allow exiled NRP leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia to participate in the election.
Sam Rainsy has been living in self-imposed exile in France since 2009, facing a total of 11 years in prison over a string of convictions that critics contend are politically motivated.
The NEC has said that he can not stand in the coming elections because of his convictions.
U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi has called on Hun Sen’s government to allow Sam Rainsy to “play a full role” in the election and has urged reforming the NEC to make it more transparent.
But the government accused him of taking a “biased approach” by siding with the country’s political opposition and civil society.
Issues 'already answered'
Local rights groups have charged that the NEC is biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and election watchdogs say voters are intimidated into supporting the CPP through restrictions on freedom of expression, rights abuses, and land disputes.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the committee had already responded to concerns raised by the NRP in consultations earlier this year.
“We already answered those questions,” he told RFA, saying that the NRP was trying to draw attention to their cause with the march.
“The party was just established, so the party officials want to let people know about them through the demonstration,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.