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‘An act of coup d’etat’

CNRP leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy sit on a stage in Freedom Park
CNRP leaders Kem Sokha (center left) and Sam Rainsy (center right) sit on a stage in Freedom Park last night after another day of demonstrations in Phnom Penh. PHOTO SUPPLIED

‘An act of coup d’etat’

Dozens of ruling party lawmakers have signed a letter calling opposition demands for a re-election or the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen an attempted coup.

The letter, signed by 54 Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers including senior MP Cheam Yeap on Friday and released to the media yesterday, said the CPP had exercised restraint in dealing with the protests, adding that the demonstrations were illegal and an attempt to overthrow the government.

“The immoral words and illegal [acts] of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha and their accomplices that are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and asking for a re-election … is completely an act of coup d’etat,” the letter read.

“We the lawmakers of the CPP in the fifth mandate would like to strongly speak against the illegal act, rude attitude and the immoral announcements of the leaders and members of the CNRP in the mass demonstrations,” it continued.

It also criticised the opposition plan to block major roads into the capital during future demonstrations, claiming the move “would lead to [the opposition] occupying some state institutions as they follow the methods from [other] countries”.

Yim Sovann, a senior opposition lawmaker-elect, told the Post yesterday that the use of such language could be an attempt to lay the foundations for a crackdown on the protests.

“There’s no need to use this language,” he said. “What the CNRP demands is logical and reasonable. They [the CPP] know that they cheat the election and the voters. That’s why they are afraid of a re-election.

“We are not trying to overthrow the government. If they don’t reform, I think this country will fall into a very serious crisis. You see the people are trying their best to follow peaceful solutions. But they [the authorities] ignore the demands for justice in society.”

Sovann went on to appeal to the authorities to listen to their demands and to avoid escalating the situation.

“Please do not try to divert the protests to crackdown,” he said. “This will lead to a very dark situation for the country.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said that the characterisation of the protests as a coup was fair, because the CPP had won the elections.

“Our job is to protect the constitution. Our job is to protect the will of the people. Cheam Yeap is saying the people decided already [in the election]. We want everyone to sit in the National Assembly,” he said.

Siphan declined to specify exactly what actions might be taken by the authorities in response to the “coup”.

“We will not allow anyone to jeopardise the will of the people,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to change due process by strength. We have let them go on as long as the public order is maintained. But we don’t let anyone put the law in their own hands. We don’t want to see the will of the majority be hijacked.”

The CNRP launched daily protests on December 15 in the capital, demanding National Election Committee reform, the resignation of Hun Sen or a snap election following evidence of serious irregularities during the July 28 election.

On Sunday, an estimated 100,000 protesters took to the streets calling for Hun Sen to step down in the biggest outpouring of popular dissent since 1998.

Protests continued in the capital yesterday, although on a much smaller scale than Sunday. Several thousand marchers headed down Monivong Boulevard before turning right onto Street 271 where they were met by Rainsy at Kbal Thnal market. The march then circled back to Freedom Park picking up Kem Sokha at Sorya Mall.

Rainsy, who had earlier returned from meeting striking workers at Svay Rieng Special Economic Zone, called for a nationwide strike.

“Anywhere I go, I only see people are living in poverty. Going anywhere, [I see] only pressure on workers, small salaries. We would like to call on workers nationwide to support each other and hold a strike as long as their salary has not been increased to $160,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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