Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has threatened to call for a nationwide general strike if the ruling party does not make concessions that would induce opposition lawmakers to take their seats in parliament.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders also appealed to the international community and businesses not to recognise the “illegitimate” government and parliament that were voted in with all 55 opposition lawmakers absent on Tuesday.
Rainsy said the CNRP would not join the National Assembly until “guarantees” are made on a committee to investigate election irregularities and a comprehensive program of reforms.
“If we join now without having anything concrete prior to joining, it will be totally useless. Because once we have joined, we will be powerless, [as] the CPP would control both the government and the National Assembly,” he said. “I think our leverage is strongest now outside the parliament.”
Such leverage could take the form of a general strike, one idea that the party has floated, Rainsy said.
“So the whole country, for one day, we will hold a strike. All factories, all civil servants, all shopkeepers will stop working that day. This is one possible idea,” he said.
The CNRP leader also raised the prospect of further mass demonstrations, as well as a “worldwide campaign to de-legitimise the government” that was formed, in Rainsy’s words, by a “constitutional coup”.
“We also would like to appeal to big, international companies. Please do not [make] deals … do not sign any contract agreement with such a government which does not represent the nation and does not represent the Khmer people,” he said.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap rejected Rainsy’s claims that the formation of government with one party present had been unconstitutional, adding that as the winner of the election, the CPP had proceeded according to Cambodian law.
“[Rainsy] has called on [the international community] not to recognise the government. It does not matter," he said. "Whoever doesn't recognise, it is their choice and their right. We have never pointed a gun at them to recognise our government.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Ek Tha said Rainsy’s call for a general strike would be ineffective.
“Sam Rainsy, he is dreaming.… We have a legitimate government in place now. He can keep dreaming, but his call for a strike will not work,” he said.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the CNRP had asked for the presidency of the National Assembly in negotiations between party leaders last week as a condition for joining parliament.
The discussions were mischaracterised, according to senior CNRP officials, and yesterday Rainsy said the party was “not interested” in leadership positions until the “truth” was found.
He did, however, suggest that the CNRP could take temporary leadership of the National Assembly in order to provide a check against the CPP’s executive power and push through both an investigation into irregularities and significant reform.
“We did not talk about [having] power. We talked about checks and balances. If [Hun Sen] does not understand the meaning of checks and balances, he does not understand democracy,” deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha said.
Rainsy added that any acceptable suite of reforms would have to include short-term measures, such as an immediate halt of land grabbing and deforestation.
CPP lawmaker Yeap said the CNRP’s idea for a system of checks and balances was out of the question.
“It wants the CPP to lead the executive and it wants to lead the legislature. They must wait for the next life, as in this life that cannot happen," he said.