Ratcheting their pressure on the government up a notch, opposition leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy yesterday again boldly led thousands of vociferous protesters away from their designated protest area of Freedom Park, this time to the embassies of France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
With 47 boxes loaded with petitions signed by 2,032,652 Cambodians calling for electoral justice already sitting at the local UN rights office, letters addressed to leaders of each of the three nations were delivered by hand.
The letters say that the recommendations of UN human rights rapporteur Surya Subedi were not implemented before the election, resulting in serious irregularities.
They add that the formation of the National Assembly in the absence of 55 opposition lawmakers violates the constitution and the “principles of multi-party democracy” guaranteed in the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.
“In view of the situation . . . we seek your assistance in resolving the current political deadlock by ensuring the enforcement of the Paris Peace Accords, the sole foundations for multi-party democracy and development for our nation,” say the letters, addressed to US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
A similar letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was delivered to the UN rights office with the petitions on Wednesday.
Some analysts, meanwhile, continued to argue that certain CNRP claims being used to buttress their call for electoral justice were misguided.
Ou Virak, president at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that although the opposition “has legitimacy” in complaining about widespread election irregularities and an unfair election, it was mistaken in basing its claims in the Paris agreements.
“If you look at the peace agreements, the main objectives [are] peace . . . plural democracy, and to bring about a free and fair election,” he said.
“But if you look at the whole text, the purpose of the [election] was to establish a legal parliament, government and constitution . . . Once that’s the case, the new law, the constitution, takes precedence over the previous one. Political analyst Peter Tan Keo said the CNRP’s strategy was not only misguided but “completely archaic”.
“Relying on the Paris Peace Agreements is inauthentic to the local reality … As we’ve seen [for decades], most members of the international community within Cambodia aren’t willing to put their signatures on anything that will rock the diplomatic boat,” he said. “Mr Rainsy and his party should acknowledge that the most authentic route to reform is to work from within the National Assembly.”
Legal analysts have also previously called into question the CNRP’s claim that the formation of the government was unconstitutional.
Outside the sprawling compound of the French embassy this morning, Rainsy said that as co-chairman of the conference where the accords were signed, France had a special role to play in Cambodia.
“France has confirmed that what they have demanded is for the spirit of the [peace accords] to be respected, and they urge all Khmer parties to find a just resolution,” he said, after meeting the French ambassador, Serge Mostura, inside.
First secretary Nicolas Baudouin later confirmed that the embassy would send the letter on to the prime minister’s office in Paris.
“We recalled our hope to see a resumption of political dialogue in order to reach a mutual understanding that will ensure the proper functioning of Cambodian institutions, which is essential to democracy,” he said in an email.
Causing traffic chaos on Monivong Boulevard, the demonstrators made their way at about 10am to the British embassy, a short distance away, on Street 75.
The police presence, aside from those manning fences blocking certain streets and managing traffic around the march, remained minimal.
The leaders and other party officials were led inside and gave their letter to deputy head of mission Bryony Mathew.
“The British embassy accepted the petition, which was addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron and will be passed on to him,” Mathew said later.
The marchers, a diverse group ranging from aggrieved provincial land rights protesters to Khmer Krom monks, then proceeded loudly to their final stop: the US embassy.
Security was much tighter there, with both embassy and CNRP security forcefully ordering back journalists from near the entrance.
Unlike at the French and UK embassies, CNRP leaders handed over their petition to an embassy security official, rather than a diplomatic representative, and remained outside the embassy compound.
US embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh confirmed a security official received the petition.
“As we have consistently stated, the United States urges both parties to seek resolution of electoral disputes through peaceful dialogue that serves the best interests of the Cambodian people and promotes reforms,” he said.
Standing a stone’s throw away from his former high school, the Lycee Descartes, Rainsy thanked the US outside the embassy before returning with a sense of victory to the gleeful hordes at Freedom Park, as the national anthem played.
“The most important stance of the United States now is that they have insisted on an independent investigation to prove [what really happened] and resolve irregularities.
“We thank the US for having a strong stance on helping democracy to take root in Cambodia.”
Senior ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that the opposition’s pleas to the UN and foreign embassies were meaningless.
“Cambodia is a strongly independent, free, sovereign country with territorial integrity. No one can come to order [us around],” he said. “The parliament has gone ahead. There is no need to put the brakes on in order to wait for the [CNRP].”
Yeap added he did not believe that the two million thumbprints gathered by the opposition were all real, alleging, somewhat ironically given the nature of reported election irregularities, that duplicate thumbprints must have been collected.
On Wednesday Rainsy said outside the UN office that the international body had “expertise” that would enable it to verify the petitions.
The final day of protests today will see demonstrators march to the embassies of China, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Russia.An estimated 3,000 protesters stayed overnight at Freedom Park on Wednesday, with a similar number also expected to have camped out last night.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA AND AMELIA WOODSIDE