Cambodia’s opposition on Wednesday threatened a nationwide general strike to step up protests challenging Prime Minister Hun Sen’s election victory and the legitimacy of his newly formed government.
Speaking to reporters in Phnom Penh, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was considering organizing a one-day general strike, which gained immediate support from a major umbrella workers union.
“This is one possible idea,” he said, proposing that all workers around the country stop working in a strike that includes “all factories, all civil servants, and all shopkeepers.”
“If the ruling party continues to ignore the will of the Cambodian people, then we will have to organize more demonstrations,” he said.
The suggestion for a strike gained immediate backing from the 100,000-strong Free Trade Union, Cambodia's biggest labor organization.
"If the opposition holds a strike, the workers will join them," Chea Mony, the group's president, told Agence France-Presse. "We want change because there are a lot of injustices and the government's promises to raise workers' salaries are empty."
Sam Rainsy's strike threat comes after the CNRP boycotted the opening of parliament this week, leaving Hun Sen to be reappointed prime minister by lawmakers from his Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
The CNRP claims the July 28 elections were tainted by fraud and other irregularities and has questioned the official results giving the CPP victory. It wants an independent probe into the irregularities but Hun Sen has dismissed the call.
The CNRP has also denounced the process by which parliament elected the country’s leadership, accusing Hun Sen of staging a “constitutional coup” and asking the international community not to recognize the new government.
Sam Rainsy said the opposition is "strongest now outside parliament” and will not cooperate with Hun Sen’s government “in any manner,” unless there are guarantees for a probe into election irregularities and for a reform program that involves both parties.
The CPP has said the CNRP had lost an opportunity to resolve any disputes with the new government by refusing to join parliament and choosing to stage protests instead.
“They can't resolve political issues if they are sitting in the streets,” Council of Ministers’ spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday.
"The voters voted for them because they want them to sit inside the National Assembly,” he said.
First cabinet meeting held
His remarks came as Hun Sen held his first cabinet meeting on Wednesday, unveiling a platform of “deep reforms” and warning his own officials against abusing their powers.
The promises for reform come after his party saw its worst performance in years in the July polls, in which according to official results the CPP won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55.
Hun Sen, who has led the country for the past 28 years, said that although his new cabinet is made of many officials from the previous administration, the new government will be more reform-oriented.
"We have the same officials but we have a different way of thinking,” he said. “We will change our work behavior.”
His new platform is based on a four-point strategy of developing human resources, infrastructure, electricity resources, and using water resources efficiently, while enacting reforms in the judicial system and armed forces.
During the meeting, Hun Sen warned Cambodian netizens not to use social media sites such as Facebook to provoke social unrest or insult King Norodom Sihamoni, who has come under criticism for convening parliament despite pleas against doing so by the opposition, monks, and nongovernmental organizations.
But he urged both the public and his cabinet ministers to follow news on Facebook.
“For me, without reading or watching news, my life will be like going without food or cigarettes,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun and Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.