Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday told supporters in Kandal province to pack up their bed mats, pillows and rice and prepare for the long haul as he and deputy Kem Sokha outlined plans for a sit-in at Freedom Park that could drag on for days – or longer.
Speaking to some 2,000 people in Ksach Kandal district – one day after the National Election Committee officially confirmed a ruling party win in July’s national election – Rainsy and Sokha called on supporters to join in nationwide demonstrations, centred in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, beginning on September 15 and lasting at least until the 17th.
“We will [demonstrate] for days, weeks. If it is necessary to march, we will march,” Rainsy said. “Please, people, pack rice as well for when we will meet at Freedom Park.… Don’t be scared; we will meet in Phnom Penh demonstrating loudly.”
Sokha also reinforced the message that demonstrations would continue until progress was made on the subject of election irregularities.
“We will not join the parliamentary session, which would violate the will of people,” Sokha said.
Despite the decidedly larger time commitment, attendees at the rally promised to support the Freedom Park sit-in.
Ros Run, 60, said – like others interviewed – that he was “not scared”, and that he “must dare to go to join the demonstration [and] participate to demand the ballots that we cast for the [Cambodia] National Rescue Party”.
Moch Soeun, 52, said she would be joining with her two children in tow, while Muong Tim, 65, said she too would join so the CNRP could “help the people to be happy”.
Young political blogger Ou Ritthy, however, was sceptical.
“You can sit down in Freedom Park and stay there for three days, but what is the impact? I’m still for the civil disobedience of Mahatma Gandhi, with garment workers boycotting their work for days,” he said, noting that behaviour affecting the economy would cause the CPP to sit up and take notice.
Predicting an ever-waning turnout for further protests, Ritthy said the proposed sit-in “might have an impact on social order, but it will not have an impact on economic development.… And [as for] social order – I think the CPP can manage”.
Ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap dismissed Rainsy and Sokha’s appeal as “demagogy”, and said demonstrations were no longer the way to resolve election disputes, since such matters had already been resolved by the relevant institutions.
“I would like to call for people – whether they voted for any party, [but] especially the supporters of the National Rescue Party – to please act according to the royal letter of King Sihamoni appealing for calm, and allow for the possibility for the party that won the election to lead the country more,” he said.
Yeap also maintained that the door remained open for negotiations with the CNRP, but only on the subject of a political compromise.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said his party had “sent several letters” asking for talks on an independent investigative body to resume, but “they ask to talk about a power-sharing agreement, and we want to talk about justice for the people – this is different”.
Sovann also confirmed that the party will send a letter to the Phnom Penh municipality today informing it of their demonstration schedule.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche declined to comment on the possibility of such a protest until he received the letter.
Meanwhile, US embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh told reporters yesterday that the US was encouraging parties to negotiate, but added that though “the final results have been announced … there are still irregularities that need to be handled”.
Political analyst Chea Vannath called it “shameful that the politicians cannot find a political way to solve their differences,” and urged the ruling party to “show political maturity” by initiating meaningful talks.
However, she noted, the CNRP is under pressure from its supporters to take a firm stance against such talks, and would continue to protest until such negotiations become more palatable.
“So to go through that process, it’s like a healing process for the supporters,” she said.