PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia opposition leader Sam Rainsy told thousands of supporters Monday that his party will stage massive protests around the country unless an independent committee begins investigating alleged irregularities in last month’s election.
The rally of more than 10,000 people in the capital Phnom Penh took place as time is beginning to run out for a compromise over the results of the July 28 polls, which are being challenged by Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Official results give Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People Party 68 National Assembly seats against 55 for the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Sam Rainsy says his party would have won 63 seats if the election was fair.
The state National Election Committee is expected to ratify the results by Sept. 8. Sam Rainsy said the protests would be held before the ratification unless an independent committee to scrutinize the election process is established.
Hun Sen moved troops and armored vehicles into the capital after the opposition first threatened protests several weeks ago, sparking fears of violent clashes. Hun Sen has been in power for 28 years and shown a heavy hand in dealing with his opponents.
The two parties and the election committee have agreed in principle to set up such a body, but have failed to have a working meeting.
The opposition rally was a test of strength, and a chance for Sam Rainsy to rally his supporters, after not staging a major rally in the capital for almost three weeks. Although Hun Sen is in a position to impose his will, a compromise would be in his interests to give his regime legitimacy, especially among Western nations that have raised questions about the fairness of the polls.
Even the 55 seats conceded by the ruling party represents a substantial increase on the 29 seats it held in the last assembly.
While it is virtually impossible that Hun Sen would allow his party’s election victory to be reversed, he could make some concessions to lure the opposition into fulfilling their legislative duties.
These could include an arrangement for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to get an assembly seat. He was barred from running because he was too late to register, because he was in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term on what he says were political-inspired charges. Hun Sen arranged a pardon for him shortly before the election.
As Monday’s crowd chanted “Win, win,” Sam Rainsy told them to look to the nonviolent tactics of India’s pacifist hero Mahatma Gandhi as a model. Civil servants could protest by not going to work, he suggested.
“Please, brothers and sisters, remember that our position is for nonviolence and peace,” he said.
“We will not wait for the day that they will announce the results, we will do our protesting before that,” Sam Rainsy told the crowd, adding that plans to demonstrate would be set aside if an independent committee for finding “justice” was established.
The opposition’s main complaint alleges the voter registration process failed to properly list possibly more than 1 million people, who were therefore unable to vote. Several nonpartisan poll-watching groups support that claim.
The official popular vote count shows the Cambodian People’s Party receiving 3,235,969 votes and the Cambodia National Rescue Party 2,946,176, with six other parties failing to take enough votes to win any assembly seats.
Hun Sen has said his party might fill all the assembly seats itself if the opposition boycotts the opening of parliament. The opposition says it would be illegal to do so.