The opposition vowed mass protests and a boycott of the opening session of parliament yesterday, hours after the National Election Committee released final election results confirming a win for the ruling party.
The results have the Cambodian People’s Party winning 68 seats to the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s 55 – an identical outcome to that released after the polls closed on July 28.
And yesterday, as on election day, the opposition said it would not accept the results.
“I think they are heading for trouble and instability unless the truth is established,” opposition president Sam Rainsy warned.
Speaking at a press conference held at the party’s Meanchey district office, Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, announced nationwide demonstrations to be held on September 15, 16 and 17. Though the party would not give details on the form such protests would take – saying such information would be released during the week – Rainsy insisted they would remain non-violent.
Protests could linger past September 17, Sokha warned, unless a resolution is reached.
“If there still is no resolution, we will continue to do these forever,” he said.
The results came less than 24 hours after the opposition held a long-planned mass demonstration in Phnom Penh calling for a thorough investigation into election irregularities. The party maintains it won the election with 63 seats, based on its own figures tallied at polling stations.
Yesterday, Rainsy called the conclusion unsurprising, accusing the ruling party of having determined the outcome long before.
“The National Rescue Party objects to the result of the election. Actually, the Cambodian People’s Party prepared [the result] and the NEC has imprinted a seal, and the Constitutional Council has imprinted a seal, that’s why the National Rescue Party objects,” Rainsy said.
The CNRP has repeatedly called for an independent investigation into election irregularities. Though the ruling party initially appeared willing to join such a committee (Prime Minister Hun Sen even publicly urged a meet), negotiations have stalled.
CPP spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said yesterday’s results meant the end to any talk of an investigation committee, though the party would be willing to meet on other matters.
“The door is still open for suggestion, but not the final outcome,” he told the Post.
In the meantime, however, the NEC and the Constitutional Council have pushed forward – looking into complaints filed by the CNRP, verifying ballots and holding hearings. All roads, however, have led to the same end, with the bodies repeatedly determining that the irregularities deemed rampant by independent monitors and election watchdogs were not severe enough to have affected the election outcome.
Barring an investigation, the CNRP would be boycotting the first session of the National Assembly – which must be held within 60 days of the election.
Though Hun Sen and other senior leaders have insisted they can legally take the CNRP’s “abandoned” seats in the case of a boycott, analysts have called such a claim a misinterpretation of the law and warned such a move could draw more ire from the populace.
At the conference, Rainsy scoffed at the threats, saying that for the CPP to do so would be returning it to a communist era.
“It’s up to them, but it would be unconstitutional,” opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said on the meeting’s sidelines.
Rainsy also urged foreign governments not to recognise the election results. While several embassies have urged independent probes, they have given little indication they would not support the newly formed government.
In an email yesterday, embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said the US would continue to call for a transparent investigation.
“Ultimately, the Cambodian people will be the judge of the electoral process and the results,” he said.
National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun said the ruling party government was unconcerned about threats of boycotts or protests, and eager to get on with its work.
“Sit there [at the protest sites] for more than five years – it still won’t matter. The parliament will still go ahead. The government will still continue to lead, because nothing will be deadlocked,” Vun said.
By pushing for protests, he continued, the opposition was violating the wishes of the King, who last month urged that the deadlock be resolved by legal means.
The CNRP appears to have interpreted the King’s letter differently, with Sokha saying at the conference: “We follow the King in the spirit of finding justice for the citizens who are voters.”
Dozens of those citizens gathered outside the party’s offices, watching the press conference via video link and airing grievances to one another.
“All the property has already been sold, only the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom have not been sold [by the CPP],” Stung Meanchey market vendor Van Ne shouted at a growing group of onlookers.
“I support the CNRP. I want to have a change because [the CPP is] not leading progressively,” she continued, to a round of applause.
After six weeks of deadlock however, some wonder whether the party can sustain the type of widespread support necessary for ongoing protests. Saturday’s mass demonstration – which had been in the works for weeks – drew roughly the same number of supporters as speeches that had been announced days, or even hours prior. Rainsy, however, brushed aside talk of a weary populace, insisting support hadn’t waned.
“The population is very frustrated. They want the truth, they don’t want their vote to be stolen,” he said.