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20,000 Expected To Gather Saturday in Election Protest

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy, right, accompanied by his party's Vice President Kem Sokha, second from right, waves to his party supporters during a public forum of the July 28 election result, in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy, right, accompanied by his party's Vice President Kem Sokha, second from right, waves to his party supporters during a public forum of the July 28 election result, in Phnom Penh, file photo.

PHNOM PENH - The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party said Friday it expects as many as 20,000 supporters to gather in a peaceful demonstration on Saturday to demand an independent committee be formed to investigate election irregularities.

The announcement came as the Constitutional Council wrapped up hearings on appeals for election complaints, with little to offer the Rescue Party.

Thousands of demonstrators will not march but will remain in Freedom Park, in Phnom Penh, on Saturday, officials said.

Mu Sochua, a Rescue Party lawmaker, told reporters that the demonstration will go from 8 am to noon.

At the opposition’s headquarters in Phnom Penh Friday, supporters could be seen making banners and placards for Saturday’s gathering.

The demonstration is meant to be a show of support for the Rescue Party, which says that widespread irregularities cost it the election in July.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has said it won the election, with 68 of 123 National Assembly seats. Both sides continue to debate the results, with the opposition threatening to boycott the formation of a new government if alleged irregularities are not investigated properly.

Opposition officials say they have trained key figures to ensure the demonstration is non-violent. Still, security forces have been deployed along all of Phnom Penh’s major inroads, where they have established checkpoints.

They have been preventing some supporters from joining the demonstration, said Ou Chanrith, who along with Mu Sochua is helping orchestrate the demonstration.

“I appeal to the Cambodian government to stop blocking people from coming to Phnom Penh, even if they are joining the rally,” he said.

Preparations for Saturday’s demonstration come amid the final decisions of the Constitutional Council on election complaint appeals.

The Rescue Party has said overall it does not believe its complaints of irregularities were treated fairly, and that in part has fueled its call for demonstrations.

Party officials say both the National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council have demonstrated bias toward the CPP, furthering the need for independent investigations.

The Council on Friday dismissed complaints by the opposition over election misconduct in Kandal province. Officials and lawyers for the Cambodia National Rescue Party left the Council hearing before a decision was issued.

The Rescue Party had sought a revote in Kandal, where Prime Minister Hun Sen was a candidate, and where the opposition alleged fraud at 72 different polling stations.

Ek Sam Ol, head of the Council, said after the half-day hearing that the opposition complaints did not conform to the law. The majority of people who wanted to vote were able to, and the Rescue Party did not provide clear proof of election fraud, he said.

All told, the Council ordered administrative discipline to local authorities at 15 polling sites—in Siem Reap and Kratie provinces—but little else.

“There has been nothing fruitful over the last three hearings,” Eng Chhay Eang, a Rescue Party lawmaker, told reporters Thursday.

Mean Sati, a member of the National Election Committee, called the decisions of the Constitutional Council, “fair for Cambodian people.”

In a report on election irregularities, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a consortium of rights groups and other non-government organizations, said they found at least 300,000 voters with overlapping names, combined with easily washable finger ink that could have allowed for multiple votes.

Koul Panha, head of the election-monitoring group Comfrel, said the Constitutional Council failed to investigate those irregularities before issuing its decisions.

“There is not fairness if only a hearing is conducted and only a report is read and oral arguments heard,” he said.

It remains to be seen how that sense of unfairness may play out in Saturday’s demonstration, and whether that will have an effect on the final results of the election tally, expected from the National Election Committee on Sunday.

However, independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that the July elections marked a “drastic” change in Cambodian politics and amid Cambodian citizens.

“They have become educated people who understand their rights and freedoms, their obligations, and the necessity of participating in public affairs, such as the election,” he said. “Not only are they not fearful anymore, but they use their rights with the utmost responsibility.”

There was less destruction and violence than in past elections, and more peaceful assembly, he said. The youth have proven to be engaged in the political process, while overall the authorities have created some space for political activity, he said.

“It may be the first time that we’ve had a peaceful election,” he said. “If we can do this, what else might we do?”

(Kong Sothanarith in Phnom Penh and Sok Khemara in Washington contributed to this report.)