In seeming defiance of Phnom Penh municipal authorities, leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) announced they will deliver petitions today to the embassies of all the signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords to call attention to the country’s democratic backsliding.
However, on Friday, Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong said the CNRP was indefinitely banned from marching in the capital or delivering petitions, even if it requests permission from Phnom Penh City Hall, adding that Phnom Penh does not belong to the CNRP.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday that about 20 lawmakers in a convoy of vehicles would attempt to deliver the petitions nonetheless.
“We have made it very clear what is in jeopardy, which is democracy and human rights,” said Sochua, a lawmaker for Battambang province, who plans to take part in delivering the petitions. “The goal of the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] to destroy the CNRP is very clear. They don’t want Cambodia to move forward into a democracy.”
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khuong Sreng yesterday reiterated the ban on marching, but would not elaborate on the reasons, or on plans to stop the CNRP if party officials deliver the petition by car.
“We will not allow the CNRP to march,” Sreng said. “But I will not tell journalists how we plan to stop them.”
The decision to deliver the petitions comes at a highly sensitive time, with acting opposition leader Kem Sokha currently holed up at headquarters evading arrest. Party president Sam Rainsy, meanwhile, is currently overseas avoiding his own legal troubles, while two opposition parliamentarians are currently jailed facing charges, and another recently had her immunity stripped after being accused of slandering the premier.
Speaking at party headquarters yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang called on supporters to rally with the CNRP in a show of solidarity.
“On Monday, we will have a rally, and at 10:30am, our members of parliament will take the petition to the embassies,” said Chhay Eang. “So on Monday, I would like many of our brothers and sisters to join.”
CNRP officials said they are unsure how city officials will respond to their gathering, but they will move forward with their plan anyway.
“The governor has already said that we would not be allowed to march, but we made our plans very clear today at the party headquarters, and we’ve been talking about our plans all week,” said Sochua.
“We want the people to monitor because the people have the right to participate. We have nothing to hide. We are very clear about what we want to do.”
Human rights defenders, meanwhile, called on Phnom Penh city officials to allow the opposition leaders to hold their event.
If the authorities choose to prohibit the CNRP from gathering it would be in violation of Cambodia’s constitution, said Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the human rights group Licadho.
“If we block people from marching or delivering a petition, it seriously affects citizens’ rights and freedoms,” he said.
Political analyst Ou Virak, meanwhile, said that the opposition even asking permission showed how much sway they had lost since the mass demonstrations following the disputed 2013 elections.
“I remember when they chose their own path and wouldn’t negotiate with City Hall,” he said. At the same time, the vague threats from the government, he said, showed they were not sure they wanted to launch a full-fledged crackdown on today’s planned rally.
“Both sides will find a way to show some compromise.”