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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Demonstrations loom in capital

Demonstrations loom in capital

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Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of both the Alliance of Democrats and Funcinpec, at a press conference on August 23. Behind him is Alliance deputy president Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition. The two men signed an agreement to work together in favor of a government that excludes PM Hun Sen.

T HREE pro-government organizations have foreshadowed a possibly violent clash for this Sunday, August 31, with their application to hold a 'counter demonstration' in support of the election results.

The three groups-the Pagoda Children's Intelligentsia and Students' Association, better known as the 'Pagoda Boys', the Safety Motodops Association, and the Trade Union Workers Federation of Progress Democracy-wrote a joint letter to the governor of Phnom Penh on August 27 to request permission to hold a protest in support of the election result. Together the pro-government groups represent around 10,000 people.

"We are very happy to see that the election ... run by the NEC went very smoothly, with freedom, fairness, justice, no intimidation, no violence, and we've seen real democracy," the application letter stated.

The announcement was clearly in response to one made earlier in the week by the Khmer Front Party (KFP), which stated it would protest the election result on the same day, and at the same time and place-outside the National Assembly.

The KFP released another statement on August 28 to reaffirm its commitment to demonstrate.

The expectation of violence has been fueled by the fact that the pro-CPP Pagoda Boys was named in a confidential US State Department report as a leader in the January 29 anti-Thai riots. The group has a history of using violence to break up anti-government rallies.

The announcements come as the National Election Committee (NEC) prepares to deliver the final results of the election on August 30. NEC officials said the electoral body would announce the names of the new members of parliament the following morning.

Sok Sokunmelea, deputy chief of the KFP, which won just 20,000 votes in the July 27 election, said that she and her colleagues planned to hold a rally to oppose the results of the poll.

"We know that this election is unacceptable because there were so many irregularities and conspiracies that were conducted by the NEC and the CPP [Cambodian People's Party]," she said. "Whether or not we have permission to protest, we will go forward because in the Constitution it says it is our right."

City Governor Kep Chuktema confirmed he had received the application to demonstrate from the pro-government associations, but said he had not received one from the KFP.

However, he said, everyone would be permitted to demonstrate as long as they agreed "to be responsible if something happens that damages property or affects national security".

"The Phnom Penh Municipality does not want to allow it, but we have agreed to their request because it goes with their freedom of expression and freedom to gather," he said. "Generally the Phnom Penh Municipality doesn't want any groups to hold any protests because of the upcoming ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting."

The ASEAN meeting will be held in the capital between September 1 and 5.

Prior experience of post-election protesting is disturbing: in 1998, at least 26 people died, including two Buddhist monks, in clashes with police.

The 1998 demonstrations were supported by both Funcinpec and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). However both have said they will not take to the streets on Sunday.

The two parties-currently operating together as the Alliance of Democrats-released a joint statement to that effect on August 27, and appealed for calm.

The statement reaffirmed that the two parties rejected the election results and would seek to negotiate the formation of a "national union [sic] government". The Alliance leaders have sought a government of national unity without Hun Sen as Prime Minister.

But Hun Sen again rejected that proposal or any offer of tripartite talks on August 25.

"We will not have any negotiations with the Alliance of Democrats," Hun Sen told reporters after a meeting with Dominique McAdams, the outgoing resident representative of the UN Development Program.

"The Cambodian People's Party will not accept such kinds of negotiations," he said. "Any negotiations must be between party and party, and include the presence of Hun Sen. If the negotiations are for talking about establishing the government, there must be the presence of Hun Sen.

"I do not understand why the parties which lost the election would call for the formation of new government with the CPP but without Hun Sen," he said. "This is very strange democracy in Cambodia. The CPP has fully given to Hun Sen the role of negotiating to form the government."

The establishment of a new executive stalled after the CPP came first in the election with more than 47 percent of the vote, but failed to capture the two-thirds majority required to govern alone. Its junior coalition partner Funcinpec refused to join another Hun Sen-led partnership.

Speaking at a steering committee meeting of the SRP on August 28, opposition leader Sam Rainsy claimed that Hun Sen would try to buy the support of 14 Alliance members.

"The CPP needs to buy 14 MPs [to achieve a quorum in the National Assembly] but it is not easy. For the SRP I'm sure he cannot, but for Funcinpec I don't know," Rainsy said.

Funcinpec formalized its alliance with the SRP at a signing ceremony on August 23. Prince Norodom Ranariddh was appointed Alliance president, Sam Rainsy the first deputy, and Prince Norodom Sirivudh the second deputy.

"In order to get victory in the next mandate in the 2008 election, we must create one party," Ranariddh said. "When the occasion requires we will create one new party. We have no regrets about dissolving them...we will not talk anymore about Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party."

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