The Cambodia National Rescue Party has been told it will not be allowed to hold its final commune election campaign rally at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Friday because it could threaten the safety of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has his own plans for a campaign march nearby, an opposition official said yesterday.
The claim was disputed, however, by a spokesman for Phnom Penh City Hall, who said no final decision had been made and that authorities would today meet with officials from both the CNRP and Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party to attempt to find a compromise.
Morn Phalla, head of the CNRP’s executive committee for Phnom Penh, said the opposition’s request to use the centrally located old Freedom Park for its final push for votes ahead of Sunday’s nationwide commune elections had been denied by municipal authorities.
It was also told it could not use Wat Botum Park or Olympic Stadium, two other central locations it had suggested as alternatives, because Hun Sen’s rally would also pass through there, Phalla said, adding that the party would ignore City Hall’s order.
“The position of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in Phnom Penh is that we keep the same position: We will rally at the old Freedom Park,” Phalla said, explaining that City Hall had suggested they use the new Freedom Park recently established on the outskirts of the city.
“If the ruling party can do activities, and the other parties cannot, that is something wrong, and it is something that the Cambodia National Rescue Party cannot accept,” Phalla said “It’s discrimination.”
Sunday’s elections will provide the first tangible indication of support for the parties since the disputed 2013 national election, and a Freedom Park rally led by opposition leader Kem Sokha would for many rekindle memories of the post-election protests the party held there to demand Hun Sen stand down.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said plans announced by Hun Sen – who has, since the 1998 national election, declined to actively campaign – to lead his own rally through Phnom Penh on Friday made the CNRP’s plans perilous.
Breaking with years of custom, Hun Sen on Friday announced plans to lead sup-porters of his ruling party in a march around Phnom Penh – including on Monivong Boulevard, a few hundred metres from the old Freedom Park. The CNRP also has plans for marches on Friday.
“We have not thought about any clash that could happen just the 50,000 [CNRP] supporters there and the 150,000 [CPP] supporters near there. How do we arrange traffic so the activities of both parties go smoothly?” Measpheakdey said, providing his own estimates of each party’s likely turnout.
Measpheakdey said City Hall would not rule out attempting to ban the opposition from holding a rally at the old Freedom Park if it appeared that it would conflict with Hun Sen’s CPP march nearby.
“If they clash, who takes responsibility?” he asked. He noted it may be hard to find a compromise today, as both parties plan to hold rallies and marches around the city from morning to evening on Friday.
Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy head of public affairs, said the opposition would gather at the Chroy Changvar district pagoda where murdered political analyst Kem Ley’s funeral was held last year if it could not secure safe access to the old Freedom Park.
“We are still insisting that we will meet there,” Monovithya said. “Meanwhile, if it does not work out, we will meet at Wat Chas.”
CPP spokesman Suos Yara said he did not know where Hun Sen would lead the party’s rally on Friday, or if he would deliver a final campaign speech.
“We will march according to the [direction of] the leaders,” Yara said. “We cannot say anything before the leaders speak.”
Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns