Marking the end of three consecutive days of protests calling for an independent probe into voter fraud in recent elections, Cambodia’s opposition on Friday said it had effectively conveyed the urgency of the issue to the international community, but that justice has yet to prevail.
Some 20,000 supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), led by Sam Rainsy, marched through the capital Phnom Penh on the final day of protests, which have seen demonstrators deliver petitions over what they say were rigged elections to the U.N. and several foreign embassies.
CNRP leaders said that while the protests demonstrated substantial gains in freedom of expression for the opposition, Cambodia’s government had failed the people by refusing to endorse a probe into the July 28 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 and wants to examine what it says were widespread voting irregularities.
On Friday, they accused the CPP leaders of “lacking the political will” to resolve the country’s ongoing political deadlock, during which the CNRP has boycotted parliament in protest against the election results.
“Today, our freedom has been expanded, but we still have not received our justice,” CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha told the crowd.
Sam Rainsy said that the CPP “cannot be trusted” to effectively lead the country, based on its refusal to honor the opposition’s demands.
The demonstration ended after supporters delivered copies of the CNRP petition, signed with two million thumbprints, to the foreign embassies of Australia, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, and China.
‘Closing the gap’
Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service that the mass rally had “historically demonstrated the will of the people in Cambodia,” adding that participants had sacrificed much to participate, including those who had traveled from far-flung provinces with little money to be there.
“This was a success, that we were able to hand petitions to the foreign embassies,” he said of the protests.
Kem Sokha said that the mass demonstrations had “closed the gap between the CNRP and its supporters” and demonstrated that the government was more willing to listen to the opposition’s demands.
“The CNRP leaders listened to all of the supporters’ requests, and the people were also able to listen to our stance,” he said.
While the government had cracked down heavily on previous opposition protests, including one in September when a man was shot dead by police, Kem Sokha said that during this week’s demonstrations “there wasn’t even barbed wire.”
Still, the CNRP will not stop its fight for justice, he said.
“We have not reached our goal yet.”
Call for assistance
Earlier this week, the CNRP had also delivered petitions to the embassies of France, Britain, and the U.S., as well as to the U.N. Human Rights Office, asking for assistance in ending the political dispute.
The petition, signed by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, said the lack of an investigation into election irregularities and the unilateral formation of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, by the CPP have taken Cambodia “back to a one-party system of governance.”
Hun Sen, whose 28-year rule of the country was extended through his party’s victory, said the formation of parliament was legal and rejected claims of election irregularities.
This week’s demonstrations coincided with the 22nd anniversary of the U.N.-brokered Paris Peace Accords, which laid out a process ending decades of internal conflict in Cambodia and which also emphasized building a democratic society anchored in human rights and the rule of law.
The countries which received petitions were key signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which had laid the foundation for U.N.-sponsored elections two years later.
The United States, Britain, and a number of other countries that were signatories have not sent congratulations to Hun Sen.
Sam Rainsy returned earlier this week from a trip to Europe and the U.S. where he said he had garnered growing support for the irregularities probe. He has previously suggested that countries use threats to cut aid or implement sanctions as a method by which to pressure Hun Sen’s government.
Several of the countries which received petitions this week have advocated for the CNRP and the CPP to resolve their disputes through dialogue.
The Associated Press quoted Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), as saying that intervention from abroad was “not going to happen,” and that seeking outside help lessened efforts to build democracy from within the country.
“By going abroad, you're actually reconfirming this attitude of we need to depend on the U.N. jumping out of the sky, out of a plane or whatever, to rescue us,” he said.
But Ou Virak told Agence France-Presse that the demonstrations clearly “shows the people are not happy” with the CPP and that both parties should “accept the reality and reach a compromise.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.