TENS of thousands of cheering opposition demonstrators marched through Phnom Penh today in the biggest outpouring yet of popular support for the opposition since the start of the three-day mass rally on Wednesday.
An estimated 20,000 people led by Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha flouted City Hall’s limit of 1,000 marchers, delivering letters to the embassies of Paris Peace Agreement signatories Australia, Japan, Russia, Indonesia and China.
The letters referenced petitions signed by more than 2 million Cambodians who are calling for electoral reform and an investigation into July’s disputed poll, which were delivered to the local UN rights office on Wednesday. Protesters delivered similar letters to the embassies of France, the United Kingdom and the United States yesterday.
Earlier in the day, Rainsy told the throngs at Freedom Park he felt the three-day rally had been a success - a feeling echoed by protesters speaking to the Post - adding that the CNRP would continue to push for reforms.
“I want to praise all of the demonstrators who have struggled to come to Phnom Penh for three days, especially the residents who came from far away provinces,” he said before the march began.
“They have proven they are willing to save our country. So I, Sam Rainsy, and Kem Sokha will continue to save our country, defend our territory and try to raise our residents’ living standards,” he added.
Official election results gave Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party 68 seats in the National Assembly and 55 to the CNRP. The opposition says widespread irregularities and a failure to implement the recommendations of UN human rights rapporteur Surya Subedi before the election made the vote unfair.
The subsequent formation of the National Assembly despite the absence of boycotting CNRP lawmakers, they add, is in violation of the constitution.
But foreign powers have begun to recognize the official results, with the governments of France, Australia and Japan, amongst others, offering their congratulations to Hun Sen last week.
After delivering the letter to the Australian Embassy at 9:45am, however, Rainsy told reporters that despite those congratulations, Australia had not recognised the election results.
“The Australian Embassy received our petition and they did not recognise the election in Cambodia,” he said.
“Australia was in the Paris [Peace] Agreement; they have principles to obey human rights. They did not abandon those principles,” Kem Sokha added.
Australian Ambassador Alison Burrows urged both sides to continue their dialogue when she met with the delegation yesterday morning, according to a statement released by the Australian Embassy.
“We continue to promote and encourage respect for & observance of human rights & fundamental freedoms in Cambodia and will continue to work in partnership with our Cambodian friends to further Cambodia’s rehabilitation & development,” the statement reads.
Outside the Chinese Embassy shortly after 11am, demonstrators’ chants for a change of government could be heard whilst opposition leaders went inside to deliver the letter.
The protesters then made their way back towards Freedom Park, where about 5,000 people remained, finding whatever shade was available to shelter from the sweltering heat.
As the rally wound down, Ros Satha, 45, from Kampong Cham province, said that as this demonstration had concluded with no serious violence and achieved its aims, he would attend future protests if they are called by the CNRP.
“The demonstrators hope that our rally with such a big crowd will get results, because all embassies received our petitions. If the CNRP calls us to rally again, we still come.”