After days of haggling, the opposition was yesterday granted permission to conduct its final rally of the commune election campaign in Phnom Penh today, though it will have to wait a few hours for a Cambodian People’s Party’s rally featuring Prime Minister Hun Sen to clear the route first.
After a meeting with the two major parties, Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the CNRP had agreed to move its rally’s starting point to Wat Chas on Chroy Changvar peninsula, instead of its earlier request to begin from the old Freedom Park near Wat Phnom.
The move, he said, was taken to prevent any overlap in routes taken by the two parties, and because of authorities’ refusal to allow a rally to start from old Freedom Park.
Starting at the centrally located park likely would have evoked memories of the opposition’s post-election demonstrations there in 2013, which were eventually dispersed violently in January 2014.
“We hope that there is no clash, so we have arranged it this way,” Measpheakdey said, adding that around 10,000 security personnel had been deployed to maintain security.
Kandal province’s Department of Public Works and Transportation, meanwhile, issued a letter closing off several roads to “large vehicles” between 5am and 11pm to avoid traffic jams during the campaign. These include national roads 1 to 6, National Road 8, national roads 21a and 21b, as well as Provincial Road 110.
The CPP will start its rally on Hun Sen Boulevard, on the southern end of town, and make its way north to Tuol Kork via Monivong Boulevard, before cutting back south to Veng Sreng Boulevard and finally dispersing near the airport.
Hun Sen, who has avoided hitting the campaign trail since 1998, is slated to lead around 150,000 supporters across the city, making his final push for votes in an election that will set the stage for a keenly watched contest in 2018.
The CNRP’s convoy, which will start at 2pm, will begin at Wat Chas on Chroy Changvar, head to Tuol Kork district, then south to Boeung Trabek, then cut back north on Monivong Boulevard, before turning towards Olympic Market and ending on Hun Sen Boulevard.
The CNRP plans to have speeches and music at Wat Chas from 7am to 2pm, an arrangement that is meant to prevent overlap with the CPP rally. The party expects around 100,000 supporters to join the rally.
While Bodyguard Unit Chief Hing Bun Heang refused to comment on security arrangements for the premier, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the 150,000 party supporters and police presence would keep the premier safe.
“We do not need to add any more forces. Samdech will get in a truck during the march with members, so it is simply not necessary to have bodyguards,” Eysan said.
Morn Phalla, CNRP executive president for Phnom Penh, said the two parties had rallied at the same time and in close proximity during the 2013 national elections, but had changed plans to accommodate security concerns surrounding the premier this time around.
“Our target is that [we] want to send our message to the voters. So we do not need to have any problems or face-offs between the big parties,” Phalla said.