Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday claimed that if Prime Minister Hun Sen tries to use authorities to quash future opposition-led protests, the armed forces and police would disobey the government’s orders and join the protesters, as has occurred during the recent political upheaval in Ukraine.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party leader’s comments came a day after the premier lifted a ban on pubic assembly but said that any CNRP demonstrations would be met with counter-demonstrations by the ruling party as both parties share “equal rights”.
“Two million people will join the protest [here] as in Ukraine, and the armed forces will not open fire on villagers; in the end, they will join us,” Rainsy said at a public forum in Kandal province.
The opposition leader said that Cambodian People’s Party protesters – who he described as “gangsters” – were usually protected by state security forces.
Speaking with the Post later, Rainsy added that despite his party previously calling for an improvement in the political environment before top-level negotiations could take place, he was unconvinced that Hun Sen was being “conciliatory” by lifting the protest ban.
“This is an intimidation, not a conciliatory move, by saying the CPP would demonstrate alongside the CNRP. This is a threat rather than [a move] towards appeasement,” he said. “There [will be] no effective liberty to protest, because the CPP, according to Hun Sen’s appeal, will hold a parallel meeting … so this will lead to a clash.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday rejected Rainsy’s claims that authorities would join protesters.
“We know what he said, but it will not happen.… He always says this [kind of thing].”
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that Cambodia could not be compared to Ukraine, because anti-government protests here had been instigated by a political party that lost an election.
“We banned protests temporarily, because the CNRP protests had violated the Cambodian constitution [every day], so we had to protect it, otherwise it would have been bigger and bigger and we would not have been able to control it.”
Despite his party leader’s projection of more mass protests, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said that his party wished to “avoid demonstrations”.
“We are in the process of negotiation, so we do not have a plan to organise demonstrations,” he said.
The first meeting of a bipartisan election reform committee originally scheduled for today will now take place on Monday.