PHNOM PENH, WASHINGTON DC - Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday vowed to lead demonstrations, including a march through the streets of the capital, for three full days next week to protest flawed elections, as international criticism of July’s polls continued to mount.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party has rejected the official vote results, announced by the National Election Committee on Sunday, which gave a victory to the Cambodian People’s Party. That has set up a political deadlock over the formation of the new government and the prospect of ongoing demonstrations until a resolution is found.
“Three days, we’ll rally, from day to night,” Sam Rainsy told a crowd of some 1,000 people outside a Phnom Penh market on Tuesday. “We will march throughout the city.”
The opposition held a peaceful rally on Saturday that drew some 20,000 people. But Sam Rainsy told the crowd the next demonstration, slated for Sept. 15 to Sept. 17, will not be bound by the confines of the government-sanctioned space at Freedom Park. He urged supporters to bring their own food, water and camping equipment, for a sustained rally.
The crowd of supporters, some of them holding lotus flowers, cheered as Sam Rainsy called on them to join him.
“Yes, I congratulate and welcome Sam Rainsy here,” said one vendor, who asked that she not be named. “Because I’m angry. I need him to protest until I get my vote back. My vote is valuable.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told VOA Khmer on Tuesday a demonstration outside the public square will mean, “We cannot protect them.”
But opposition leaders say they remain adamant that a proper investigation into widespread election fraud must be conducted. They claim many as 1.2 million eligible voters were not able to cast ballots in the July 28 election, costing them an election victory. And they appear willing to continue demonstrations calling for an independent investigation.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch joined the calls for an investigation, saying the “government-controlled” National Election Committee had not properly addressed election complaints by the opposition.
“The National Election Committee has doused even the slimmest hope that thousands of electoral irregularities would be investigated in a serious and impartial manner,” Brad Adams, Asia director for the US-based group, said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch said problems documented during the electoral process included unequal media access for parties; CPP bias within national and local election bodies; a lack of impartial dispute resolution; “manipulation of voter rolls to allow ‘ghost’ voters and exclude opposition voters”; campaigning by security forces loyal to the CPP, “leading to the intimidation of voters”; and the failure of the NEC and the appeals body, the Constitutional Council, “to seriously or independently investigate credible complaints of election irregularities.”
The US remains concerned about the election process, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, told reporters in Washington Monday.
“We do still believe that a transparent review of irregularities in the July elections would help efforts to assess and address flaws in the electoral process and give the Cambodian people greater confidence in their electoral system,” she said. “And we are continuing to urge all parties…to seize this opportunity to improve their democratic process going forward.”
Without an investigation, the Rescue Party has threatened to boycott the formation of a new government, which is to take place at the inaugural National Assembly session on Sept. 23. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which officially won 68 National Assembly seats to the opposition’s 55, has said it will form a government unilaterally if the opposition does not participate in the session.
“We have the NEC, we have the Constitutional Council, we have His Majesty the King, and we have the law and principles to follow,” government spokesman Phay Siphan told VOA Khmer on Monday.
King Norodom Sihamoni on Monday told the NEC he would invite all parties to attend the Sept. 28 National Assembly session. But so far that official invitation had not been delivered, officials said. Cambodian law says the king can wait until the day before the session before making an official invite, an important piece of protocol in this constitutional monarchy.
But at the market in Phnom Penh Tuesday, Sam Rainsy said the opposition will not join the session, “unless justice is given to citizens and there is a reasonable solution.”