Offering, for the first time, a timeline to its clamouring supporters, opposition party leaders told a Phnom Penh rally yesterday that mass demonstrations will be held before September 8 – barring an independent investigation.
Addressing an estimated 10,000 supporters at Freedom Park, Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy vowed the wide-scale protests would take place before final election results are released in a week and a half.
“We will hold mass demonstrations before the official results are announced. But we urge the formation of an independent committee to find the truth and give justice. If there is a committee, we will not hold demonstrations. But this committee has not been created, and they block it from being created and they [still] prepare to announce the official results,” Rainsy said.
The party has long called for an independent investigation into electoral irregularities to be brokered by the United Nations, but progress has repeatedly stalled. Last week, the opposition and ruling party met in a tentative step toward a committee but no advancement has been made since.
Deputy president Kem Sokha vowed that the party had not budged on its terms.
“The mass demonstration is nonviolent and with the aim of demanding justice by forming an independent committee that involves national and international [NGOs] and also has the UN as observers,” he said.
Protests would kick off in Phnom Penh, Sokha said, “and if they still do not [set up the committee], the mass demonstrations will spread”.
While there has been little forward motion on the joint committee, the National Election Committee closed its own investigation into irregularity complaints on August 17, ruling them invalid.
The Constitution Council, the highest adjudicating body, is continuing its own investigation. On Sunday, on the council’s orders, the NEC examined ballots and original documentation from Kratie polling stations but ruled there was no difference in figures – despite concerns over potential tampering of unsealed documents.
At the rally yesterday, Sokha said the party would be filing a court complaint against the NEC, accusing them of falsifying the polling station forms.
The crowds far exceeded the numbers who appeared at Rainsy’s last large rally early this month, spilling out of Freedom Park and filling the side streets at least a block in each direction. Visible police presence was minimal and the party’s private bodyguards kept a wary eye on surrounding buildings with binoculars.
Supporters showed little sign of waning interest, screaming in response to a question of whether they desired protests, that they wanted to see mass demonstrations.
One by one, people were pulled onto the stage to offer testimonials.
“I would like to take part in demonstrations,” 59-year-old Leng Yim said to cheering crowds. “The NEC is a provoker, and they have made me stuck, [unable to think of anything else.]”
Amping up the rhetoric, Yim said she was unafraid of violence. “If I take part in the demonstration, and you shoot me dead, you wouldn’t be able to escape [the crowd],” she warned.
In the park, supporters chanted “change” and hoisted signs saying “I want my future now.”
“As a youth, I will take part in the demonstrations to find justice for the Khmer people,” said Rin Chanrith, one of several young men to mount the stage.
Government officials yesterday downplayed such shows of support.
“One hundred thousand, one million, two million, it does not matter,” said CPP spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.
“It is not important, because the demonstration [must be] based on the law,” he said, adding that the leaders would be responsible for any unrest that would result.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he doubted it would come to that.
“I think Sam Rainsy also doesn’t want his country to go into the situation like after 1970. We have been suffering enough of that, more than 30 years of fighting.… I think Sam Rainsy knows very well because we are the same Kampuchea.”
Asked whether there would be repercussions for the party following the large turnout – despite a ministry order restricting the rally to 5,000 people, Sopheak insisted all was well.
“I heard it already finished peacefully and we welcome that news.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABBY SEIFF